By CRES Vice President of Policy and Research Richard Campbell
The debt ceiling negotiations earlier this year revealed a divide related to accelerating the deployment of energy and infrastructure. Republicans favored permitting reform that benefits all types of infrastructure, while Democrats were solely focused on financing and market changes to speed up long-distance transmission access to wind and solar. Some might take that to mean that Republicans oppose connecting renewable energy to the electric grid, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Recent polling by CRES Forum indicates 61 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Independents nationwide support the government taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy. Additionally, young conservatives are increasingly vocal about the need for the Republican party to acknowledge the reality of climate change and develop policies to address its impacts on our planet—81 percent of Republican voters aged 18-44 believe climate change is a threat and action should be taken to address it.
Modernizing our electric grid to connect renewable energy is good business – both for project developers and American energy consumers. In fact, Republicans are strong supporters of reforming the statutes that are the biggest obstacles to permitting transmission such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but rather it is Democrats who have shown a strong reluctance to address these obvious hurdles for transmission necessary for wind and solar.
On the other hand, Republican support for renewable energy has been consistent for decades. For example, Texas, under then Governor George W. Bush, was one of the first states to implement a program to enhance renewable energy and was the first state to set up a system to track renewable energy credits. Just a few weeks ago, during National Clean Energy Week, there was an outpouring of support from Republicans at all levels of government across the country. They joined in celebrating the benefits clean and renewable energy sources provide to local communities, our economy, and U.S. national security.
What distinguishes Republicans in this space is that they also support other important clean technologies such as carbon capture and nuclear, while Democrats have a complicated and often adversarial approach to other zero-emissions technologies – focusing almost solely on wind and solar, regardless of the merits of other clean options.
Republicans have and will always support renewable energy when and where it makes sense to reduce costs and reduce emissions – and for good reason. The absence of a fuel cost (for wind, solar, and geothermal energy) means cheaper electricity over the long term, and farmers and ranchers can earn extra income from wind turbines or solar panels on their land as they continue to grow crops or raise livestock.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. Even with more abundant and cheaper energy storage, solar and wind power depend on natural forces to produce power and must be backed up by natural gas or other sources of energy. Additionally, the United States is currently overly reliant on imports for solar and wind equipment and critical minerals.
In May 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its latest proposal for mitigating carbon dioxide emissions from powerplants that burn coal or natural gas to generate electricity. EPA’s proposal appears aimed at not only retiring coal plants, but also requiring natural gas plants to either convert to hydrogen or install carbon capture if they are to remain in operation – neither of which is available at commercial scale. EPA also appears to neglect one major consideration in its strategy: the role of flexible generation from natural gas in firming renewables whose power generation varies with the wind and sunlight.
Natural gas generation provides much-needed baseload energy necessary to ensure the reliability and resilience of the grid. As Republicans have continued to call for, permitting reform is needed now more than ever to increase and modernize pipeline infrastructure and midstream improvements and to keep our natural gas supply growing to meet U.S. and global demand. U.S. natural gas developers have among the lowest emissions profiles in the world, and new transmission and grid upgrades are necessary to have a smarter, more reliable grid.
Today’s wind turbine and solar photovoltaic technologies were developed in the United States, before practically giving away the intellectual property to China. The national laboratories and U.S. researchers are developing new solar cells with much higher sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiencies and wind turbines that can deliver more power (in open land or sea coastal applications or even urban landscapes). These new technologies are unfortunately subject to supply chain security issues, and a new trade policy is needed to ensure that American manufacturers can have the materials they will need for these new products.
The opportunity exists for U.S. manufacturers to be the provider of the next generation of more efficient, higher output renewable electricity technologies and other clean energy technologies as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy. This opportunity – and the expansion of renewable energy throughout the United States – is not lost on Republicans, and conservatives will continue to support energy technologies that lower costs while lowering emissions.