The South Portico of the White House in Washington in 2014 soon after technicians finished installation of a bevy of solar panels on the roof of the nation’s most famous address. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Looking for an objective way to measure the presidential candidates’ interest in renewable energy, an analyst for the American Council On Renewable Energy searched their websites a month ago for the term.
To get there, Clinton wants to install 500 million solar panels during her first term. She would increase solar capacity to 140 gigawatts by the end of 2020, a 700 percent increase from current levels, by offering grants, market-based incentives, and prizes for communities that cut red tape.
“What’s significant for Hillary Clinton—obviously she supports the Clean Power Plan, she supports and wants to build on the Paris Agreement, and has a number of other concrete programs that are supportive of renewables,” Wetstone said during a webinar last week on the status of renewable energy.
“Donald Trump’s plan is pretty different,” he said.
“He would rescind the Clean Power Plan, he’s seeking to abandon the Paris Agreement, he has called for eliminating EPA, and that has actually evolved into an actual platform position to change EPA into a commission. It’s not clear how the Clean Air Act or other environmental statutes would be enforced, and he doesn’t consider climate change a reality. So pretty stark differences there.”
Trump’s plan focuses on removing bureaucratic and political barriers to oil and gas development in the U.S., citing North Dakota’s fracking revolution as the primary example of American energy potential.
Wetstone offered evidence that clean energy should be a popular plank on any platform. The number of renewable-energy installations so far exceeds the number analysts would expect based on the policies that have promoted them, he said, because consumers are demanding renewables.
“What we’re seeing is when the opportunity is presented, consumers of electricity—both residential and commercial and industrial—are choosing renewable energy over other options.”
ACORE’s member directory includes hundreds of companies—Dow Chemical, Amazon, Citi, Google, Duke Energy, Panasonic, GE and dozens more that produce, consume, or invest in renewables. Some of those companies have agreed to purchase power directly from renewable-energy producers, cutting out utilities.
“This is a whole different world, where this is outside of the usual utility structure, and it’s big numbers. And if you look at who’s doing that, the big leader obviously is Google, with Amazon right behind,” Wetstone said.
That corporate interest helps explain renewables’ momentum.
“The transition to renewable energy has well and truly begun,” Wetstone said, “and I think in a bigger way than most folks realize and even to some degree most of us who work in this sector.”
But policies still provide the foundation for growth and the stability that encourages investment.
“You can see that both solar and wind growth in 2020 and beyond accelerates dramatically under the Clean Power Plan, so that’s a key part of what drives this industry looking outward,” Wetstone said. “I think it’s pretty clear the winner of the 2016 election will determine the fate of the Clean Power Plan.”
ACORE is not the only renewables organization to reach this conclusion. Sun and Wind Magazine assessed the candidates as well:
“When choosing the next President of the United States, in November, Americans will also decide if the country’s economy will be powered by solar or by oil and gas,” the magazine concluded. “The Democrats and the Republicans have traditionally held different views on anything about the economy, but in this case the difference is huge.”