In Spite of Themselves, Republicans Coming to Love Renewables

October 25, 2018

Follow the money, and the jobs.
Renewable energy makes so much sense, even deep red state conservatives can love it, even if it is good for the environment.

Washington Examiner:

Republicans used to deride so-called “green jobs” when former President Barack Obama promised to create millions of them with subsidies and loan guarantees. Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee for president in 2012, attacked Obama’s “unhealthy obsession with green jobs.” During a campaign stop in Colorado, he famously asked mockingly, “Have you seen those jobs anywhere?”

But now that those jobs exist — increasingly in rural, Republican-leaning states and districts — GOP lawmakers at the state and federal level are dropping the “green” moniker, and boasting of clean energy credentials ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. They are doing so even as President Trump has prioritized restoring coal jobs, of which there are half as many as solar.

“Republicans are seeing a huge number of big paying jobs being created in their districts and in their states,” said Dan Reicher, the Assistant Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration who was formerly Google’s director of climate and energy. “It’s the economic reality. It was inevitable they would come to this conclusion.”

The economic numbers are stark for clean energy, a category that supporters define as including jobs in solar, wind, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles.

There are now nearly 3.2 million clean energy jobs in America, and the industry employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry in 42 states and Washington D.C., according to the nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians are the two fastest growing occupations in America, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. California, unsurprisingly, has the most clean energy jobs, ranking first in solar and fifth in wind.

“We have the Mojave Desert in my district, and it has a lot of wind and sun,” said Rep. Steve Knight, a Republican running for re-election in California’s 25th District, just north of Los Angeles, which is one of Democrats’ biggest targets. “It makes sense we use those two resources to provide power,” he told the Washington Examiner in an interview.

In his bid to retain office, Knight, a veteran and former Los Angeles police officer, is promoting a bill he authored that would encourage Energy Department investment in large-scale energy storage technology that can capture excess wind and solar energy to allow power from those sources to be used during non-windy and sunny times.

“Republicans should be very bold about this,” Knight said. “I am very bold about this. We are going to a new age here in the next 10 years.”

Solar and wind are also plentiful in Republican areas of the country.

Republican-led Texas has the most wind generation. Indeed, four rural Republican states — Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and South Dakota — generate more than 30 percent of their electricity from wind, and employ together more than 9,000 people in that industry.

The Solar Energy Industries Association says that 13 of the top 25 congressional districts for solar generation are represented by Republicans.

“These are attainable jobs that can be done by anybody,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs. “They are being done by people in communities all across America — Republicans, Democrats, and everywhere in between.”

Environmental issues and climate change polarize America, and rank low among voters’ priorities. However, renewable energy, and the jobs it creates, now unite Republicans and Democrats.

Conservative states are as likely to support renewable energy and energy efficiency policies as liberal states, according to a 2016 study led by researchers at Vanderbilt University.

“We are absolutely seeing a change,” said Heather Reams, managing director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a conservative group. “Republicans who believe their constituents aren’t there yet on climate can still embrace clean energy and do a lot with jobs and the economy, but still be reducing emissions.”

Dylan Reed, head of congressional affairs for Advanced Energy Economy, says a Republican running in a swing district cannot afford to oppose clean energy when the job benefits are so widespread.

“You aren’t going to win a race by running strictly on clean energy,” Reed said. “You don’t have to be out there with the first shovel. But you can’t be out there saying these are fake jobs.”

Sara Mills in the Conversation: someone who researches these policies and incentives, I’m constantly reminded that renewable energy is on the rise in not just Democratic strongholds and the “purple” states where leadership is bipartisan. It’s booming in some of the nation’s most conservativebastions.

Windy red states

Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma lead the nation in renewable energy generation, with more than 30 percent of the power generated in each of these states coming from wind turbines and other renewable sources. Three nearby Great Plains states, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, are also in the top 10.

One reason why these states are greening their electricity is simple. They are in the nation’s windiest region, which runs through the middle of the country from North Dakota down through Texas.

An economic boon

Another reason for this wind boom: Many communities in these states see renewable energy as an economic opportunity.

Landowners earn money when they host wind turbines or solar panels on their property. This arrangement provides a drought-proof and pest-proof income stream that supplements what they make from agriculture.

And solar and wind developers also often pay property taxes that fund government services, such as local public schools.

This revenue supplies a much-needed boost in areas that are struggling financially or losing population, two challenges all too many rural communities face.

Few renewable energy requirements

As it happens, few of these wind-rich states are using the typical state-level climate policies to drive the growth of renewable energy. For example, none are among the dozen states participating in cap-and-trade systems by 2018. In those parts of the country, quotas limit how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can be emitted and permits authorizing the emissions are traded.

Iowa was the first state in the nation to adopt a renewable portfolio standard – a policy requiring utilities to get a set proportion of their electricity from renewable energy. But after hitting its initial target years ago, the state has taken no steps to raise its official goals.

Texas is in a similar position. It met its target well before its target date, despite a move in 2015 by state Republican lawmakers to repeal its own renewable portfolio standard.

And the Dakotas, Nebraska and Oklahoma never enacted a renewable energy mandate with any teeth.

Data from a national survey that I manage shows that, though Democrats are extremely supportive of state-level mandates requiring the use of renewable energy, Republicans are significantly less enthusiastic about them. The survey finds 94 percent of Democrats say they support such policies, compared to 69 percent of Republicans – a 25-point gap in support.



One Response to “In Spite of Themselves, Republicans Coming to Love Renewables”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    They are America’s “blow-over” country.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: