Renewable energy after the U.S. elections

This article comes from law firm Chadbourne & Parke LLC and is authored by partner Keith Martin

President-elect Donald Trump said three things during the campaign about energy: he favors an all-of-the-above energy policy, he wants to bring back 30,000 coal jobs, and he favors moving forward with the Keystone oil pipeline. He offered few other specifics.

Five experts in Washington who follow energy and tax policy closely talked barely 36 hours after the polls closed in November about the potential effects of a Trump presidency on the US renewable energy market. More than 2,800 people registered to listen.

The five are:

The moderator is Keith Martin with Chadbourne in Washington.

MARTIN: Rich Glick, what effect will the Trump win have on the US renewable energy market?

GLICK: I don’t think it will have much of an effect in the short term. The significant growth that has occurred in renewable energy over the last several years is due primarily to technological advances that have reduced costs, to state policies such as restrictions on carbon emissions and state renewable portfolio standards, and to federal tax credits.

I don’t expect any of those three to change as a result of the Trump win. I expect we will talk more later about the Clean Power Plan, which was expected to drive renewable energy in the medium term beyond 2020. At least for the short term, I do not expect there will be much of an impact.

MARTIN: Mark Menezes.

MENEZES: I agree with what Rich Glick said, with one caveat. I would watch for tax reform proposals as part of the first-100-day plan of the Trump administration.

MARTIN: Joe Mikrut.

MIKRUT: Focusing on the tax pieces, I don’t foresee a lot coming up in the near term under the new administration. Energy tax issues really were not a focus of the campaign, so I think the issues for energy are going to be outside the tax world.

MARTIN: Does that mean you do not believe Congress will tackle corporate tax reform in 2017?

MIKRUT: Tax reform is a different issue. We have been talking about tax reform in Washington since at least the Bush administration. The years of talk with no action demonstrate how hard it is to do.

Having both the administration and both houses of Congress under Republican control will make it a little easier. As to what corporate tax reform might look like, a blueprint that the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and the chairman of the House tax-writing committee, Kevin Brady, released last June is the probable starting point. Brady’s staff on the House Ways and Means Committee has been working to convert the blueprint into legislative language over the last few months. We will get into more detail in a bit.

MARTIN: Kathy Weiss, what are you telling First Solar will be the effect of the Trump win?

WEISS: Trump called during the campaign for an all-of-the-above energy policy. I think we will have to keep fighting to make sure that there is equal treatment among the market segments. I would caution against overstating our sector’s dependence on government policy to continue making advances.

Although renewable energy remains a relatively small part of the overall energy supply, the transformation has begun. We are moving from a mandate-driven push market to a customer-driven pull market. It is hard to see how that can be reversed. The market dynamics are overtaking government policy as the real driver.

MARTIN: Greg Wetstone.

WETSTONE: I agree with what has been said. I think we are looking at three or four years of solid growth that has already been baked in.

We had $44 billion in combined wind and solar investment last year. The main factors that are driving that investment are falling equipment costs and rising efficiency. Renewable energy is more competitive. There is more demand for renewables among residential and corporate consumers. Aggressive state policies are part of the picture. Federal tax credits remain in place. None of these is likely to change on account of the election.

The real question is what happens once we get past 2020. Will the longer-term drivers like the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan remain in place?

Clean Power Plan

MARTIN: That is a good bridge to the next question, which is Trump wants to jettison the Clean Power Plan. For listeners outside the United States, the Clean Power Plan is an effort by the US Environmental Protection Agency, with encouragement from Barack Obama, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from US power plants.

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