When President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, it was a major blow to the renewable energy industry because of the growing market in America. Now the Trump administration is also making good on his campaign promise to revitalize coal country, as the Environmental Protection Agency is set to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, a limit set to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
With these orders, alternative energy may see slower growth or receive less federal funding. But one group of conservatives wants to make a case for clean energy.
On October 5, the Christian Coalition and the Young Conservatives for Energy Reform (YC4ER) hosted the third annual Conservative Clean Energy Summit in Washington D.C. More than 300 conservatives from across the nation met with industry leaders, activists, businesses and members of Congress to send a message to everyone in the energy debate.
“Clean energy isn’t a left or right issue. It’s an American issue,” said Angel Garcia, the national outreach director for the YC4ER. “We need leaders out there to explain that this is something that will make America better, stronger and independent.”
Coming together as conservatives for clean energy doesn’t exactly separate them from the larger dialogue, Garcia said. It just provides more perspectives and additional arguments in support of renewables. Key themes shared throughout the summit included “home-grown” energy, job growth and national security.
Energy independence was one of Trump’s keynotes during his presidential campaign. However, what he had in mind was producing more coal, oil and gas in the United States instead of relying on renewable energy or foreign sources of fossil fuels. The summit speakers reiterated several times that the nation’s energy independence won’t succeed by using fossil fuels.
“There’s a maximum need on what we can always provide, and the U.S. is one of the greatest consumers of energy,” Senator Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, said in his speech. “Clean energy is pragmatic and consistent.”
Last year, the solar industry employed 200,000 more individuals than the coal industry, and wind reached over 100,000 jobs.
Data from the Solar Energy Industries Association’s annual report showed fortune 500 companies such as Target, Apple and Costco are the top-10 corporate solar users, and there are now more than 9,000 solar businesses in America. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the U.S. is the leading producer of wind energy in the world. With over 99 percent of all wind farms on private land, wind energy projects are now giving more than $245 million a year to American landowners, AWEA reported last year.
Mariah Bastin, a member of the Washington D.C. Young Republicans, said she has seen this job influx in action. Bastin’s father grew up on a farm in Kansas and understood that money was often tight for agricultural communities. After her father retired a few years ago, the Bastin family moved to Colorado and saw sophisticated wind turbines popping up on farmland. Local farmers were actually able to make ends meet by selling wind power on their property. Because of this cooperation, wind energy in Colorado has increased from 1.5 percent to 17.3 percent since 2005 and accounted for three-quarters of all renewables used in the state in 2015 alone.
“[Wind energy] has been around for many years, but it’s just now that we’re really working out the ability to mass produce and be able to sustain ourselves on all levels,” Bastin said.
Though job creation is high in both of these sectors, the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that hydropower is actually America’s largest clean energy source at about 40 percent.
All renewable energy sources are viable options for the U.S. to implement because the technology is nearly there, said Emmanuel Wilder, the North Carolina chairman for YC4ER. But now it’s a matter of bringing costs down. “If you look at big screen TVs, those were $10,000 for a 32-inch. But we’re now at a point where $100 or $200 can get you a 32-inch flat screen. That same expanse is coming to the renewable energy field,” Wilder explained.
Lowering costs could make clean energy more available to those who can’t afford it. Joseph Pinion, outreach chair for the New York Young Republicans and chairman of the Conservative Color Coalition, said the second leading cause of homelessness for families, in places like Colorado, is the inability to pay energy and utility bills. So with new technologies and advancing systems, wind energy is en route to lowering costs for low-income families.
Clean energy as a solution to help impoverished people has also been considered for certain national security crises. After Hurricane Maria left calamity in Puerto Rico, companies like Tesla and the German energy storage manufacturer sonnen jumped to offer assistance in transforming the island’s energy infrastructure. One route would be through microgrids, which would use small-scale solar panel or wind generator arrays that can quickly restore localized power during outages. Places in urgent need, such as hospitals or cell towers, can be brought online quickly through these microgrid energy systems.
For the conservatives at this summit, these success stories and accomplishments make America great. To accomplish the Trump administration’s sentiment, leading the world in the energy sector and empowering all Americans is our best bet, Pinion explained. “When you’re talking about increasing prosperity for all individuals, clean energy must be at the forefront of the conversation,” he said.