US Midyear Elections Offer Opportunities and Challenges for Renewable Energy

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Every time the U.S. holds midyear elections, the country almost always goes against the incumbent President’s party, which is always sobering to whomever holds The White House. And this week’s elections were no exception.

U.S. citizens should remember not to fall for the stereotypes of the political parties. In many ways, we lost one strong supporter in the Senate, gained a strong set of new Republican and Democratic Governors who are clean energy advocates, and are pretty much even keel in the House of Representatives.

Will the Republican leadership in Washington, DC grandstand on Keystone Pipeline? Yes. But can they succeed in undercutting the grass roots Republican clean energy support out beyond the Washington, DC beltway? No.

The two most-watched Senate races in the clean energy world were Mark Udall (D-CO) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Udall, who co-chaired the U.S. Senate Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus lost. Shaheen, who championed the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, won. She sits on the Senate Appropriations Energy & Water subcommittee and is a valuable ally.

A good win for clean energy is Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) who sits both on the Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee and well as the Foreign Relations Subcommittee, which includes international environment. He is a stalwart supporter of clean energy and not a shy one either.

In the Governors races, we have strong support for the portfolio of clean energy technologies. I am relying on Craig Cox’s great research here. Cox is one of the authorities on regional renewable energy politics for decades.

Jerry Brown (D-CA) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) were re-elected and are very pro-renewable energy and energy efficiency governors. The list is way too long here to list all they have done — but they both have set solid records of expansion of clean energy in two of the most populous states in the nation. Iowa’s re-elected Governor, Terry Branstad (R) has solid clean energy credentials. According to his website, “Governor Branstad signed solar and wind energy tax credits into law in 2012 and 2014, respectively, and Iowa currently generates 27.4 percent of its electricity from wind–the highest in the nation.”

Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper (D) was also re-elected and his website states that he “supported renewable energy jobs” and offers the following:

John supports Colorado’s large and growing renewable energy industry. Colorado has the sixth-largest solar industry in the country supporting 3,600 jobs, and the state’s wind industry is tenth-largest in the United States. John signed legislation to cut red tape for solar technology and small hydroelectric generation, and he expanded the state’s renewable energy investment tax credits. In addition, he led efforts at the Western Governors’ Association to call on Congress to extend the federal wind program.

In Hawaii, David Ige (D) was elected, and he publicly states that “we must provide more options for customers to manage their electricity bills and to reduce cost by ensuring that all electricity customers have the opportunity to benefit from clean energy policies. I believe we can be a model of clean energy for the nation — and even the world — but we need the right kind of leadership.”

Incumbent Mark Dayton (D-MN) was also re-elected and he has a long history of support for energy efficiency and renewable energy from his first days as Governor, and incumbent Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy (D) is also an ardent and proven clean energy supporter with initiatives for renewables, energy efficiency and microgrids.

A rising star for Republicans on clean energy is Idaho Governor-elect C.L. “Butch” Otter, who is quoted on his website as saying: “There are few things more important to our long-term economic well-being than becoming more energy independent. A more secure and prosperous future requires protecting and empowering the generation and transmission of low-cost, reliable energy for sustainable growth and development — and more career opportunities for the people we serve.”

Further, the website explains that:

Governor Otter showed his keen understanding of the role of renewable and alternative energy resources — as well as the critical importance of improving Idaho’s energy transmission capabilities — when he created the Office of Energy Resources in 2007. It took the lead during the Great Recession in upgrading Idaho’s public schools to make them more energy efficient, and along with the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance it has led the Governor’s charge for more industrial energy efficiency and development.

New Mexico incumbent Governor Susana Martinez (R) was re-elected, and she boasted that she “signed legislation to extend Sustainable Building Tax Credit for five years to provide incentives for consumers and builders to use energy efficient homes and buildings.”

Newly-elected Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R), publicly supported the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) and stuck by it during his public debates.

Oregon incumbent Governor John Kitzhaber (D) was re-elected, and he took clean energy credit by signing Senate Bill 692, which aligned Oregon’s energy efficiency standards for appliances with California and British Columbia; House Bill 2801, which expands market opportunities for energy efficiency and conservation by allowing utilities to invest public purpose charge funds in whole-building energy efficiency retrofits; and Senate Bill 242, which reduces the amount of coal in the state’s future energy resource mix to encourage investment in lower-carbon alternatives.

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Some newly-elected Governors are poised to become leaders on clean domestic energy options.  Bruce Rauner (R-IL) has staked economic growth on innovation hubs, and is very “new” technology oriented. Newly-elected Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R), I expect will also become a leader and supporter. He stated on his website that “Energy and the environment go hand in hand, and we need an energy policy that ensures Michigan will forever be a place where we can enjoy our Great Lakes, forests, fields, rivers and streams.”

Ohio’s re-elected Governor John Kasich (R) has been caught in some republican crossfire in his state on renewable energy.  According to Cox, when Senate Bill 310, which was created by the Republican legislative majorities at the behest of the utilities and some of the state’s largest industries, passed, he inserted the provision that the RPS mandates, which the bill will keep at this year’s levels until 2017, will automatically be restored in 2017 — a provision missing from early versions of the bill but demanded by the governor.

In South Dakota, Governor Dennis Daugaard (R) was re-elected, and he is also a pro-energy efficiency candidate. His website states, “he super-insulated his farm as well as attempting to do the same in the Governor’s Mansion.”

Newly-elected Governor Tom Wolf (D) made this claim in his campaign: “Expand the use of Clean Energy — Tom will work to make Pennsylvania a national leader in the development of clean energy sources. Within his first year in office, Tom will introduce legislation expanding Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards and restoring some funding for the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority.” So he will be an aggressive leader along with the NY and CT Governors in the Middle Atlantic region.

And incumbent Governor Bill Haslam (R) has been aggressive supporter of energy efficiency in the State of TN. He is another upcoming leader we should all watch.

Maggie Hassan (D) retained her incumbency in New Hampshire and has strong environmental credentials joining with seven regional governors in petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require upwind states to reduce air pollution and joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Charles Baker (R), newly elected Governor in Massachusetts is also an avowed supporter, “I am proud to commit to restoring funding to these essential programs that protect the environment because I care deeply about making Massachusetts great and leaving behind a stronger, greener Commonwealth. As Governor, I will pursue higher levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources that protect ratepayers and our environment.”

Rhode Island’s newly elected Governor Gina Raimondo (D) made the impacts of climate change a major talking point in her campaign.

Normally, I don’t want to get into the weeds of state politics, but one win we all should be jumping up and down for was the re-election of Bubba McDonald (R) of the Georgia Public Utility Commission. This man has engineered a solar renaissance in the State of Georgia, and has been the outspoken regulatory leader in the entire southeast for renewable energy.

Challenges Ahead in the Some States

One of those governors elected that needs to hear “the other side” is Doug Ducey (R), the new Governor of Arizona, who stated publicly, “I generally oppose new subsidies or tax credits for targeted industries. Government shouldn’t pick winners and losers in this manner, nor should hardworking taxpayers be required to subsidize profitable businesses.”  Obviously he’s mum or unaware of the oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy subsidies that have been in place for decades that cost taxpayers over ten times what renewable energy receives.

The other Governor who is no friend, appears to be Alabama’s incumbent Governor Robert Bentley (R), who has been reported in the media as being, “an outspoken opponent of the proposed EPA regulations, even going as far as to directly ask EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy ‘who comes up with these crazy ideas?’”

And finally Maine’s incumbent Governor Paul LePage (R) told business leaders at the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine not to expect the public to pay for research and development of solar, wind, biomass and energy-efficiency projects.

Pay Attention and Speak Up

So be prepared for some theater as the Washington-based Republican leadership flexes its muscles. But also keep in mind that we have many friends in Congress and with the Governors. Don’t be quiet or assume they don’t support our clean energy businesses and policies. Remember, there is nothing like a fine whine in politics.

Lead image: Pillars and Steps via Shutterstock

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