Renewable Trend in Energy May Be Beyond Trump's Grasp

by Kyle Massey  on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 12:00 am  

Is renewable energy Trump-proof?

The social activism site posed that question after November’s election, and energy observers and industry leaders in Arkansas are answering yes, with a few caveats.

Donald J. Trump won the presidency after a campaign largely negative to renewable sources like solar and wind power, but forces in favor of cleaner power could prove even bigger than The Donald.

(See: Energy Sector In Arkansas Expects Shift, Not Upheaval Under Trump)

Energy professionals and observers say the falling price of solar and wind power, along with the prospect of new jobs in clean energy, will most likely withstand Trump’s goal of cutting $100 million in government spending on climate policy and his rhetoric favoring fossil fuels over renewables. Businesses and states are demanding more clean power, Arkansas experts say, and utilities are listening.

The Trump campaign promised “to hit reset” on the Clean Power Plan and to roll back Barack Obama’s climate and clean energy initiatives. But a GOP penchant for infrastructure projects and commerce-building is expected to favor endeavors like the Plains & Eastern Clean Line, a $2 billion plan for transmitting wind power across 12 Arkansas counties from Oklahoma to near Memphis.

Ken Smith, policy director for the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, was hesitant to call anything Trump-proof until it has been “Trump-tested,” but he thinks the renewable energy industry will “survive and prosper during a Trump administration.”

Fortune 500 companies are embracing renewable energy, he said, utilities are buying it in bigger increments, and Arkansans themselves want more clean power. But the overriding factors are economic: Costs are down and job opportunities are rising, he said. “Wind is cheaper than coal and even natural gas, and solar is coming closer to being equal or cheaper. The economics are behind renewable energy, and that will be the case for years to come.”

Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, said the equation goes beyond the simple price of electric power. Renewable energy aligns with the stated values of companies like Google, Microsoft and Target — as well as major Arkansas employers like Wal-Mart and Unilever — and Deck sees economics in the background. “It’s hard to say any energy source is good for good’s sake,” she said. “Companies have to make some judgment about consequences.”

The public’s growing zeal for clean power is one factor. “There is a values-based movement toward renewables, but it is also based on real costs,” Deck said. “Pollution, emissions, climate change, whatever it may be. This is often couched in terms of values, but from an economist’s point of view, companies take into account not just today’s price, but the overall long-term economic costs.”

Advanced Energy Economy, a national business group, reported last month that 71 of the Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy or sustainability targets, up from 60 just two years ago. “Our own state-based company Wal-Mart’s renewable energy target is 50 percent by 2025,” Smith said. “Mars, Coca-Cola and hundreds of other companies have similar targets.”

Utilities serving those businesses take heed, said Michael Skelly, founder and president of Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston, the force behind the the planned wind-power transmission line.



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