As originally published in the Red Green and Blue on December 29th, 2017.
Heather Reams, Managing Director
Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions
While other issues may have grabbed the national headlines in 2017, it has been another banner year for the clean energy industry—especially outside the Beltway. In fact, it may end up being remembered as the true tipping point in the evolution of America’s growing clean energy economy, as there have been several important developments over the past twelve months.
Most recently, Republicans in Congress passed a landmark tax reform bill, which took some important steps to boost private investment—including investment toward clean energy projects—by reducing the corporate tax rate and allowing for 100 percent expensing. However, Congress missed an opportunity to advance the use of clean energy technologies by dropping some renewable energy tax credits from the final agreement. CRES is committed to restoring these “orphaned tax credits,” and will work with our champions in the House and Senate to act early in the New Year.
Another key moment occurred this past February, when U.S. Department of Energy reported that American clean energy employment officially surpassed three million workers across industries including solar, wind, and hydropower. Clean energy jobs now outnumber fossil fuel jobs in 41 states, and renewable energy is creating jobs at 12 times the rate of the rest of the economy.
Moreover, individual clean energy sectors have enjoyed unprecedented growth in 2017 and reached impressive new milestones. The solar energy industry had its most successful second quarter ever, installing 2,387 megawatts of new solar photovoltaics, which represents an 8 percent increase year over year. U.S. wind projects currently under construction and in advanced development through September of this year reached a record 29,634 megawatts, up 27 percent year over year. And hydropower generation increased 7 percent year over year and now accounts for 6.5 percent of the nation’s electricity.
Meanwhile, state policymakers took important steps to promote clean energy over the summer, and I’m proud to say that as a Republican, much of that progress is being driven by voices inside my party.
For example, Republican Governors Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Rick Scott of Florida signed several important clean energy bills into law; Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds finalized a plan that will continue her state’s stellar record developing clean energy; and perhaps most notably, Republican Governors Paul LePage of Maine, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, and Phil Scott of Vermont all renewed their states’ commitments to the highly successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade plan that has helped lower participating states’ carbon emissions by 40 percent in its first decade.
While those are bold moves, Republican leaders in the states are simply listening to their constituents by embracing the “good policy is good politics” reality of clean energy. Americans of every political stripe want clean energy projects in their communities because they know they bring jobs and economic growth, not to mention strengthening national security and protecting the environment.
Indeed, the next generation is making the path clear for the GOP. A poll commissioned by the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum concluded that nearly two-thirds of likely Republican voters ages 18-45 favor the government taking steps to reduce carbon dioxide and methane emissions.
Fortunately, in the closing weeks of 2017 and going into 2018, Republicans in Washington will also have some major opportunities to better align themselves with the future of the party the way many of the state leaders have.
The FY 2018 federal budget remains an unsettled matter for lawmakers, so the funding for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E), which is critical for clean energy innovation, is up in the air.
In January, President Trump will have to decide whether to impose tariffs on imported solar cells. Doing so will drive up costs and undermine the fastest-growing jobs in America—solar installers. Rejecting the tariffs will encourage investment in solar.
And following the release of the Department of Energy’s “Staff Report to the Secretary on Electric Markets and Reliability” in August, it’s clear that both the Trump Administration and Congress need to make grid modernization a priority in 2018 and the foreseeable future, and diversified clean energy sources have an important role to play in that process.
The innovation happening now in clean energy is a quintessential American story, not unlike those that defined past eras such as railroads during the 19th Century or the personal computer at the end of the 20th Century. Our growing 21st Century energy needs require that we unleash the power of our inventors, entrepreneurs, and workers to find clean energy solutions—2017 could prove to be a watershed moment.