So it happened. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton last night in a stunning victory. While many groups from Silicon Valley to the auto industry are concerned about the win, none should be more worried than those working on the future of clean energy and the fight against climate change.
Industries like utility-scale solar and wind, which have been growing dramatically and lowering costs for some time, will likely keep charging ahead under a Trump administration. Those sectors are already competitive on cost and have been creating jobs in states like California, Texas, and Iowa.
However, it’s the future energy innovations and still immature sectors that still need government support that will suffer—whether that’s the budding U.S. offshore wind industry or the budget for new energy research and development.
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In addition, Trump’s election is a massive blow to the U.S.’s standing in the world on climate change. As the world gathers in Marrakesh this week to talk about the Paris Climate Agreement, America just elected leader who has said he’ll rip up the Paris Agreement. He also has said he thinks climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese.
When it comes to U.S. energy production, Trump has said that he’s in support of all-the-above energy, from coal to natural gas, and even to solar. However, his major stance on the energy industry is to say he’ll remove regulations. He wants to block the Obama’s administration’s controversial Clean Power Plan, which calls for power companies to lower greenhouse gas emissions. That Plan was at the heart of America’s commitment to the Paris agreement.
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It’s been reported that Trump had chosen Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Ebell has called the Clean Power Plan “illegal” and has said joining the Paris agreement is “unconstitutional.”
Trump also wants to remove regulations that have previously blocked opening up federal lands and offshore areas for oil and gas exploration and production. He also wants to rescind a moratorium on new coal mining leases on federal land. In addition, he wants to remove rules to protect streams from coal mining and waterways and wetlands from industry in general.
Clinton had planned to continue with the Obama administration’s stance on fighting climate change and pushing clean energy, including a goal to install 500 million solar panels in the U.S. The differences between Clinton and Trump on these issues couldn’t have been more stark.
Trump has said he wants to bring coal jobs back, but the economics behind the fall of coal is already happening. That happened mostly because U.S. natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than coal, and power companies and utilities would rather have a gas plant than a coal plant. So it’s unclear how he could change those economics and save coal jobs.
Things that aren’t already economic and generating jobs are what could really be in trouble.
Funding for future energy R&D and even bringing in talent at the Department of Energy could be in serious jeopardy. The previous two Energy Secretaries have been former science professors, bringing in leaders from universities and industries. Who knows who Trump would bring in to lead the DOE, but you can expect an academic brain drain at the department. No scientists will want to work under an administration who’s leader doesn’t believe in climate change.
Industry leaders like Bill Gates and John Doerr have long called for a huge boost in the budget for basic energy research and development. There’s probably little chance for that over the next four years and it’s quite possible energy R&D could face even more cuts.
It’s not a good day for the future of U.S. clean energy, but expect wind and solar to keep on chugging.