According to the annual Gallup Environment Poll, the American public is overwhelmingly in favor of continued solar development. At the same time, support for increased coal production and other CO2 emitting fossil fuels are diminishing. However, it might have less to do with high-minded ideals and more to do with rooftop solar as an affordable energy alternate to Utilities, which have operated until recently with little to zero competition.
Poll Suggests Widespread Public Support for Solar
Every year, from March 5-8, pollsters ask, "Do you think that as a country, the united States should put more emphasis, less emphasis or about the same emphasis as it does now on producing domestic energy from each of the following sources?" Possible answers included, coal, solar power, nuclear power, wind, oil and natural gas.
In 2015, 79 percent of respondents said the U.S. should put more emphasis on solar energy, up three points in two years. Meanwhile, only 28 percent said the country should put more emphasis on coal production, a decrease of three points over two years.
Nonetheless, based on campaign rhetoric, a new Trump administration is expected to promote fossil fuel production in general, including coal. Observers question whether solar, wind and other clean energy subsidies will survive in a Republican-controlled Congress and administration.
Phasing Out Federal Tax Credits
Originally, the federal solar tax credit passed under the George W. Bush administration in 2006 was set to expire at the end of 2016. However, in late 2015 a republican majority of Congress extended the 30 percent investment tax credit for solar energy as part of an omnibus spending bill. As a result of the multi-year extension solar prices will continue to go down and we will see an increase in technological efficiencies.
This tax credit, along with similar ones for wind and other clean energy sources, was expected to stimulate hundreds of billions of dollars in new clean energy investment in the United States. At the same time, the compromise legislation lifted the ban on U.S. crude oil exports, something both Republicans and Democrats from oil-producing states wanted.
In 2015, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) projected that the United States would have at least 100 Gigawatts (GW) of installed solar power by 2020. If this estimate proves correct, approximately 3.5 percent of all electricity produced in America will come from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.
Subsidies Key to Continued Solar Growth
However, will a coal-centric Trump administration, supported by Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, leave the current solar subsidies in place? Prior to the November election the GOP’s stated energy policy included the following, "We support the development of all forms of energy that are marketable in a free economy without subsidies, including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear power and hydropower."
The America First Energy Plan released by the Trump-Pence campaign in May promotes the development of all U.S. energy sources, including renewable sources like wind, solar and hydro. Given the dramatic decreases in solar costs in recent years, this renewable energy source is far more able to freely compete in a fair market system promoted by a Trump administration. Not to be overlooked the Solar industry employs over 200,000 Americans nationwide and is adding new jobs at a rate 12 times faster then the overall economy.
Impact on Carbon Emissions Compliance
Should the administration pursue such an energy policy, the anti-subsidy language may hint at what will follow. However, significant reductions in carbon emissions are required by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan over the coming decades, and the development of clean energy sources is needed to meet those targets. For example, by 2022, carbon emissions generated by the utilities sector must fall 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Some specific states must achieve reductions exceeding 45 percent.
Of course, reduced carbon emissions are critical to slowing the impact of climate change, a phenomenon confirmed by many U.S. and international scientists alike.
Although Trump greeted the idea of climate change with skepticism during the campaign, he quickly altered his stated view after the election. He now says he’ll approach climate change arguments with an "open mind." These mixed signals create a degree of uncertainty as to what might follow as a Republican President and a Republican Congress collaborate on energy policy.