Working with President Trump on Cleantech and Efficiency

Yes, at first it seems antithetical: those of us in the Cleantech and Energy Efficiency worlds are going to need to work with President Trump. There is untilled common ground, and right now I believe we have an opportunity to farm it, if we act fast.

Trump’s Untilled Field

There is a genuine opportunity here folks! Donald Trump’s energy policy lacks detail and understanding of not only the direction things are heading, but where things are in 2016. Unlike Hillary Clinton’s platform, this could have a lot of room for planting seeds for renewables, efficiency, and beginning to price in externalities that are currently socialized costs. 

In some ways, it is a greater opportunity than with Clinton because a quantum leap forward may be possible where Hillary was clearly an incrementalist, and fossil fuel interests had many seats at her table.

The bad news is thatTrump has already begun to surround himself with what the Cleantech and EE worlds likely consider the wrong people. If we act fast and leverage common ground, we may be able to limit the damages, and perhaps even make substantial forward progress by putting different names on what we want to do.

Common Ground?

Yes, common ground. There are a growing number of conservatives who support Cleantech, like RepublicEN’s Bob Inglis who was interviewed on The Energy Gang podcast. He also gave an excellent Ted Talk. They recognize how to meet their constituency where it lives. It is not arguing about Climate Change. It’s about fundamental values. Those values include stewardship of land and energy independence. Nixon started the EPA, pollution is anathema to core Republican values. There is common ground.

But Fracking Federal Lands!

Opening federal lands to drilling is scary. There’s a major problem with succumbing to that fear. Math. Drilling companies are going bankrupt in droves because oil and gas prices have fallen off a cliff. Fortune Magazine estimated that oil and gas exploration bankruptcies would sextuple in 2016.  

If renewables stay cheap, it’s possible oil and gas prices might stay low for a long time because of low demand. We may be able to avoid new drilling because of pure economics. Besides, oil exploration on federal lands is already happening under Obama, so this is a questionable “Fear Trump” narrative.

Similar economic forces are at work in the coal industry. As much as Greens are blamed for the War On Coal, the fact is that fracking is what killed coal. Natural gas got cheaper, much cheaper. Coal is uncompetitive. Markets shifted. It wasn’t Greens, it was plain old green.

Meanwhile, renewables aren’t just for hippies anymore. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, utility-scale wind became the cheapest power source in Germany and the UK in 2015. That’s without subsidies. There are many stories showing how renewables now have math going for them, while fossil fuels do not.

What great timing!

Trump can’t change the economics of gas, oil, or coal unless he throws massive amounts of money at the industries to prop them up. Since he campaigned against market perverting subsidies, this hypocrisy would be tough to explain away.

Instead, let’s present attractive alternatives that lean heavily on common ground.

The First Bullet inTrump’s Energy Plan

  • Make America energy independent, create millions of new jobs, and protect clean air and clean water. We will conserve our natural habitats, reserves and resources. We will unleash an energy revolution that will bring vast new wealth to our country.

That is the actual wording. It sounds like it could have been written by the Cleantech or EE industries. The rest of the document is, well, tough. Let’s do our best to ignore the rest and focus on the common ground in this bullet.

Energy Independence

  • Renewables are often the least expensive option for new power.
  • Once built, there are little to no foreign-sourced materials in them.
  • Wind turbines in particular are built in the US.
  • Wind and sun never run out, we don’t have to fuel these plants.
  • Solar is sexy, regardless of politics.
  • Renewables offer the possibility of local power independence aka grid defection. (Yes, I know it’s unrealistic, but it’s an emotional argument that appeals to many and Trump is a populist movement.)

Create Millions of Jobs

Protect Clean Air and Water

  • Cynicism aside, it’s in there. Let’s hold Trump to account.
  • Renewables do this naturally.

Unleash an Energy Revolution

  • Electrification is the best (and likely least expensive) long-term path to energy independence. It’s also clean and creates jobs.
  • While probably not how Trump would define the revolution, we have a chance to influence the definition!

That’s a lot of common ground to work from, just in that one bullet point. I’d add two more to Trump’s list that can appeal to Republicans:

Energy Efficiency

  • Bryan Miller of Diablo Advocacy, formerly of SunRun, says that EE is one of the very few things that has bipartisan support.
  • Who is against using less to do the same or more?
  • Companies can get good PR while helping their bottom lines, such as zero landfill auto plants.

Market Based/Free Enterprise

  • Demand driven, not supply driven.
  • Republicans are not fans of entitlement plans, they like things that fund themselves. They have a point here, at least when it comes to Cleantech and EE.
  • A market needs to be self-sustaining. After 40 years of attempts, energy efficiency hasn’t made it there.
  • It’s better to ask people what they want to fix and not tell them what they should do. We’ve had some early successes at this residentially:
    • Healthier Homes – All clients would like their homes to be healthier.
    • Comfort – All clients have comfort complaints to solve.
  • Apply this lesson to renewables where possible as well.
  • Jigar Shah literally wrote the book on creating wealth in this sector.

Let’s Focus on Hope

All in all, I feel hope that we can break out of our traditional language and begin to speak Republican. Meet them where our common values intersect and work amicably on common ground. There is a good chance that the untilled field that is the Trump energy policy can be planted with seeds that will grow up to be things that solve climate change.

Time is of the essence, though. Trump is forming his team now, and many are not the ones we would hope for. How can we get a seat at the table?

Those are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.

 

 

Image Credit: Wikipedia

  • Bob Hastings

    I thought I was an optimist! I am on board with focusing on hope. However, I’m thinking the CTA with all of this in mind needs to be a play to get the next administration to adopt a piece of the mindset or appoint a seat for someone like an Inglis, for example.

    • Agreed. A seat at the table.

    • Also, it helps that I grew up Republican. It’s not that foreign to me.

  • Stephen Byers

    Really nice work Nate. It’s certainly worth trying even if I’m considerably less optimistic than you are.

    • As I watch the appointments roll in, I am feeling less optimistic… that said, if we don’t try, we can never say we did.

  • Colin Genge

    While it is clear that increasing emphasis on natural gas will have no effect because there is already a glut and decreasing regulations on coal will have little effect because the market has dried up, the Republican notion that the EPA needs to be defunded will be harder to recover from. I assume there are staff members who support Energy Star for example that may not be easily replaced if they are let go.

    What are your thoughts on that?

    I assume they will stop encouraging States to adopt IECC also?

    • Alas, you are asking questions I am not well educated on, and hence don’t have good answers to…

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