Trump’s Energy To-Do List

by Anna Gretz
November 13, 2016
Energy

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. Here’s a list of things Mr. Trump has mentioned during his campaign that he would like to focus on.

  1. Rebuild utility infrastructure.

Both major candidates, Clinton and Trump, mentioned a rebuilding of “infrastructure,” namely the water system, and perhaps the utility grid. A big motivator for this project would be the creation of American jobs that would accompany it. Though Trump did not nail down any details as to how he would pay for such a project, an infrastructure bill is one that both Republican and Democratic congresspeople could agree upon, especially in light of the current shape the electrical grid is in. Many people are not aware of how fragile and vulnerable the electrical grid is, but the government has made it clear that they are well aware. A physical or cyber attack on the power grid would disable America in a unique, and uniquely horrifying way. A rebuilding of our country’s utility infrastructure could be a great first step in securing and protecting the power grid as we know it today.

  1. Re-draft a new climate action plan.

The Obama Administration put into play the Climate Action Plan to regulate power plant and automobile emissions, accelerate renewable energy permits, and cap methane emissions. Last May, Mr. Trump gave an outline for what he would like to accomplish in his first 100 days in office, and making big changes to the climate rule was high on his list. Trump believes that the Climate Action Plan destroyed American jobs, especially the Clean Power Plan, which set rules on the carbon dioxide pollution in the United States. The Clean Power Plan has not yet been implemented while the courts continue to debate the legality of the regulation, and if they determine that the law is overstepping, Trump is likely to let the plan die then and there. If the law passes the courts, the new presidential administration could simply choose not to have anyone work on implementing it. This may be the strategy Mr. Trump takes regarding the PAris Agreement as well.

  1. Re-direct funds away from the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Paris Agreement was reached after extensive worldwide negotiations… negotiations that Mr. Trump was not a part of. He has made it clear that rather than open up new negotiations (which would prove to be quite difficult and impractical), Trump would redirect the payments currently being sent toward United Nations for global warming programs, as well as funding directed toward Paris Climate Agreement programs.

  1. Continue job creation in the renewables sector.

Though the Trump administration plans to make changes to the regulations proposed by President Obama, that doesn’t mean there are plans to attack renewables all together. The renewable energy industry has been a huge economic driver, as well as an area in which jobs are being created at a remarkable pace. Since Trump has been speaking frequently about his focus on growing the American job market, it’s likely that he wouldn’t take an anti-renewable stand, but rather a pro-all energy stance, creating more jobs across the board.

  1. Fill two seats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Though we’ll have to wait it out to see exactly what Donald Trump will do within the energy sector, we know that his decisions will have key implications on the growth of renewable energy. One area where he will have considerable power is in filling two of the five open seats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The role of the FERC is to manage communication and cooperation between state and federally regulated electricity and gas networks. Under the Obama administration, FERC made the critical decision to open up the energy markets to non-fossil-fuel alternatives like solar and wind power. As of January of next year, two of the five seats on the FERC board will be open, and the Trump administration will have the opportunity to appoint the two board members. These two spots on the board were already reserved for Republicans, but Trump can take this chance to change the environment of FERC by appointing leaders that have a different idea of what the commission should be doing with its power. Many believe that Trump will seek out candidates who represent the natural gas, oil, and coal industries, since he has been very vocal about his support for these markets.

FERC has historically been very involved in supporting the growth of distributed energy resources like solar, battery energy storage, and electric vehicles. It’s not entirely clear which direction a Trump administration will steer the commission along these lines. As stated above, Trump has been supportive of the gas, oil, and coal industries, but the renewable sector has been creating a lot of American jobs.

Trump’s specific stance on wind and solar has not yet come into light. Most of his comments, predominantly on social media, have been focused on the high expense of wind and solar power. He gravitates instead toward energy sources he deems more economical, like fossil fuels. However, the renewable energy market is changing in a big way.

“The price of solar panels has fallen 80 percent in the last eight years,” said climate activist, Bill McKibben, “it’s a very different equation than it has been in the past.” McKibben noted that Mr. Trump will be the first president to take office in a world where renewable energy is cheap. Because of this, Trump may change his posture toward these renewable energy strategies, especially when pushed to comment in a more formal manner.