By: Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder
Dear President-Elect Trump,
For nearly two decades, we’ve been tracking and chronicling the transition to a clean-energy economy. While we know that we don’t see eye-to-eye with you on all of the issues, we wanted to send you the following “open letter” to update you on the clean-energy business opportunity, and what you might do as president to enable a massive infrastructure build out which supports American jobs and home-grown energy.
First, let us lay out some of the significant facts and figures regarding the transition to clean energy that’s taking place in the U.S. and across the globe:
- Global investments in clean energy have grown from $62 billion in 2004 to $329 billion last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
- In the U.S., clean energy, in the form of solar and wind power, now represents the largest share of new additions to electricity capacity. In 2015, wind, solar, and geothermal sources represented nearly 63% of all electricity capacity additions across the country, outpacing natural gas at 34%.
- Many of the largest, most iconic U.S. corporations, such as General Motors, Google, Nike, and Walmart, are now working to achieve 100% renewable electricity in all of their U.S. and/or global operations. Companies that have reached at least one of these goals include Apple, Kohl’s, and Microsoft.
- Five states now have mandates and target years to get 50% or more of their electricity from renewable sources. And clean energy deployment crosses the red state/blue state divide. In fact, among the top 10 states last year for percentage of clean-electricity generation, six voted for you in the 2016 presidential election (Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Idaho), and four for your opponent.
- Americans of all political stripes resoundingly support clean energy. In the latest poll from Pew Research released last month, 89% of Americans favored expanding solar power, and 83% supported expanding wind farms. Backing this up, on Election Day pro-solar policies passed in Nevada, where voters moved forward a constitutional amendment that could break up utility NV Energy’s monopoly, and Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have prevented third-party ownership of solar.
- More than 2.5 million Americans work in clean energy, advanced vehicles, or energy efficiency-related jobs, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs’ Clean Jobs America report in March 2016. Solar jobs in particular are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. job market, expanding 20% annually for three consecutive years.
- The solar and wind industries offer competitive jobs that pay good salaries. For example, the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 found that the nation’s 209,000 solar workers received median wages at least $1 per hour higher than the national median wage. And the occupation projected to grow the most through 2024 – wind turbine service technician – received a median annual wage that was 37% higher than the national median wage in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tesla Motors alone employs 6,000 workers at its Fremont, California assembly plant – now the largest manufacturing facility in the state.
The loss of American manufacturing jobs was a big focus of your campaign; clean-energy technologies (solar modules, wind turbines, EVs, inverters, LEDs, smart devices, green buildings, and more) are helping bring them back.
We know that you’re pro-business, that you want to create as many high-paying American jobs as possible, and that you support competition. Below are five key actions you could take to achieve and support these goals, helping the U.S. remain a strong global competitor in this critical 21 st century industry.
1. Open up Proven Investment Tools from Oil, Gas, and Real Estate Sectors (such as MLPs, REITs, etc.) for the Clean Energy Sector
You’re a dealmaker with a long career of financing projects. Master limited partnerships and real estate investment trusts are proven investment vehicles that, to date, have generally not been open to solar, wind, and other clean-energy projects. You can ask Congress or the Internal Revenue Service to level the investment playing field by implementing tax code changes to rectify that.
2. Support Military Initiatives on Energy and Water Security
The Department of Defense, the single largest user of energy in the world, has moved to the forefront of clean-tech deployment in recent years. Among many other initiatives, the Navy and Air Force have a target to get half their fuel from non-petroleum sources by 2020, while the Army is moving toward net zero energy bases. These moves make our military stronger and more resilient, while saving tax dollars in the long term.
3. Set up an Infrastructure Bank that Leverages Private Capital
You’re a builder. The nation is in desperate need of infrastructure improvements/overhaul, which will also create thousands of construction, engineering, and other jobs. A federal smart infrastructure bank, modeled on existing precedents, can leverage funds from private equity, pension funds, and other institutional investors to finance improved systems for transportation, efficient buildings, water filtration and delivery, and the modernized distribution of electricity. This public-private partnership could help fund critical infrastructure projects like the Federal Highway Administration’s proposal for thousands of new EV charging and alternative fuel stations across the nation. Want to compete better with China and Brazil? They have similar bank structures, as do several nations in Europe.
4. Preserve Renewable Energy Tax Credits
Extended by Congress with bipartisan support late last year, the investment tax credit (ITC) for solar and production tax credit (PTC) for wind have been critical for fueling the American job growth referenced above in both red and blue states across the nation. Moving forward, once the ITC and PTC expire per current schedules, we recommend phasing out subsidies for all energy sources, to create a level playing field in energy.
5. Launch Federal Prizes for Innovation
Private-sector prizes to reward innovators date back decades, most famously to Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic to capture the Orteig Prize (of $25,000) in 1927. More recently, the philanthropic X Prize has been spurring innovation for the past 20 years. We believe the U.S. government should do the same, funding prizes for breakthroughs in energy, transportation, building design, and other key areas; it’s a proven high bang-for-the-buck investment in R&D. We know you like your name on things, so why not the Trump Prize?
As a business leader and builder, we ask you to take a close look at the economic gains and jobs being created by doing things faster, smarter, cheaper, and cleaner. The rest of this century will require massive innovation in resource management and efficiency, spanning clean transportation, water, energy, the built environment, and agriculture. Regardless of the climate change issue, the progression to a lower carbon, more resilient future is where the global economic battles of the 21 st century are being fought. The U.S. must embrace this critical transition, or risk being left behind as Europe, Asia, and our other global competitors decarbonize and repower their economies. America’s greatness depends on it.
Ron Pernick is founder and managing director of research and advisory firm Clean Edge and the coauthor of two books on clean-tech business trends and innovation, Clean Tech Nation (HarperCollins, 2012) and The Clean Tech Revolution (HarperCollins, 2007).
Clint Wilder is Clean Edge’s senior editor, a blogger about clean-tech issues for the Green section of The Huffington Post, and co-author of Clean Tech Nation and The Clean Tech Revolution (both with Ron Pernick). E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @Clint_Wilder.