Election Results You Missed: Energy Policy

by Anna Gretz
November 10, 2016

In the background behind the presidential race were many amendments and propositions regarding renewable energy that you may have missed. Here’s a summary of the winners and losers in the solar energy sector on November 8th:

Florida Votes No on Amendment 1

Arguably one of the biggest energy policy stories of the week is the rejection of Florida’s Amendment 1. The amendment was a utility-backed proposal to limit rooftop solar expansion, though this was not altogether clear to voters. The amendment was a failed attempt to use solar’s relative popularity to insert new language into Florida’s Constitution… language that could have been used as a barrier to raising fees on solr users, and keeping out private companies that want to compete with the utilities to provide solar power. Because of all the voter confusion, a bipartisan coalition of solar advocates formed Floridians for Solar Choice formed with the goal of shooting down the measure. They were successful, but it was a narrow victory.. According to Tory Perfetti, the chairman of the new coalition, “We defeated one of the most egregious and underhanded attempts at voter manipulation in this state’s history.”

This victory is a big deal for homeowners who are looking for more friendly solar policies, and, as Stephen Smith says, “the freedom to harness the sun’s power for the benefit of all Floridians and not just the monopoly utilities.” Smith’s comment reflects a feeling of animosity many have in Florida toward the utility companies. For these large, investor-owned utilities, the failure of this amendment is a major blow. The utilities see solar as a threat to the traditional energy distribution system, especially as rooftop solar becomes more affordable, and the market for electricity levels off. This fear will likely drive the utility companies to push forward, turning next to the Florida legislature or Public Service Commission.

Washington Voters Reject Carbon Tax Proposal

On November 9, Washington’s ballot included what would have been the nation’s first direct carbon tax. The initiative was rejected definitively.

Named Initiative 732, the law would have imposed a carbon emission tax on fossil fuels. At the same time, the initiative would have reduced both sales taxes and business and occupation taxes. All fossil fuels sold or used in the state of Washington would have been considered according to carbon content, as well as electricity consumed in the state (from non-renewable resources, of course.)

While the initiative was defeated with a 58.5 percent vote against it, the founder and co-chair of the campaign, Yoram Bauman, believes that the initiative will be used as a model for future laws, and that we are on the cusp of a nationwide movement that will embrace carbon taxes in the years ahead.

Monterey County California Bans Fracking

An initiative in Monterey County, California known as Measure Z was placed on the ballot to ban the use of fracking and other high-intensity methods used to extract oil and gas from the ground. The initiative was passed by voters with a very significant result: all oil production in the county may shut down after a lucrative 70 year run.

This marks the very first time that a county in the United States with high oil production has voted to ban fracking. Here’s what we mean by high oil production: Monterey County’s oil field, San Ardo, has produced 21,900 barrels per day on average, which is about 4.4% of all of California’s onshore production (reported by California’s Department of Conservation.)

Other states in the America have tried to get anti-fracking proposals on the ballot without success--they were opposed vehemently by oil companies, and other powerful groups. Monterey County’s decision is expected to be protested in court by Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

Looking Forward: Michigan Senate Plans to Overhaul Energy Policy

Michigan’s senate has been inactive on the state’s energy policy for a long, drawn-out session, but now plans to finally put a vote to the proposed package. The new proposals are Republican-sponsored, and aim to create a new planning process for rate-regulated utilities seeking state approval on plans to build new facilities. This is necessary, as many aging coal power plants are retiring, and new facilities will be on the docket before long.

By 2022, utilities would be required to produce 15% of their electricity from renewable resources. This may pale in comparison to the impressive and ambitious goals of California and Hawaii, but it’s up from the current mandate of only 10%.

John Austerberry of DTE Energy (one of the major power companies in Michigan), fully supports the legislation. “Michigan is going through a fundamental transformation in the way energy is produced,” said Austerberry, referring to the coal plant closures, and reinforcing the importance of maintaining good reserve margins in the future years.

Election Day 2016 was a big day for energy news, though it was naturally overshadowed by the close presidential race. Now that Donald Trump is officially America’s president elect, it’s time to take a look at the plans he has for the energy and renewables industry, and what changes we can expect on the solar and battery storage markets. From what we know so far of Trump’s energy policy plans, we’re going to be looking at some big changes.

Of course, many decisions will have to be supported by congress, and the President never has unilateral power over energy policy, but we have a pretty good idea of where things may be headed. For a list of things Mr. Trump has mentioned during his campaign that he would like to focus on, click here.