Why is Renewable Energy Thriving in Trump Country?

In the U.S. and abroad, there's much talk about the likely impacts of President Trump's dismantling environmental regulations and his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. And all the same, there's also recognition that some forms of climate progress may have tipped toward self-perpetuation. The sunset of coal power and rise of low-cost renewable energy, especially wind and solar, follow the hard logic of market economics moreso than political platforms and moral persuasion.

The powerful growth of renewable energy in politically conservative states -- those with Republican governors and legislatures, and those that voted for Trump -- is particularly noteworthy. It flips some well-worn assumptions on their heads, as detailed in this June 6 New York Times piece by Justin Gillis and Nadja Popovich.

"The clean energy push allows their utilities to lock in low power prices for decades, creates manufacturing jobs, puts steady money in the hands of farmers who host wind turbines and lures big employers who want renewable power.

“We export lots of things, and in our future, I want us to export a lot of wind power,” Kansas’ conservative Republican governor, Sam Brownback, said in a speech in 2011. “We need more of it, and we need more of it now.”

Mr. Brownback got what he wanted: Since he spoke, wind power production in Kansas has nearly tripled, and the state is now an exporter of clean electricity." 

Read the full article >

Go Iowa, leading U.S. states with 37% of its electricity from wind power! The role of the local has never been more important in taking action on climate change. Perhaps it might not matter so much why the actions are taken, so long as we see rapid progress toward the low carbon future?

“I think the answer is that we don’t need these silly wars. Let’s not even try to agree on climate change,” said Hal Harvey, chief executive of Energy Innovation, a think tank in San Francisco. “Let’s just get the job done.”

The question is, can we get there when our wind farms are deployed among huge herds of beef cattle?  While I appreciate the optimism expressed by such news coverage, I think it might perpetuate an over-emphasis on renewable energy as the primary climate solution, and distract us from solid systems thinking about other non-technological high-impact solutions.

[Photo: wind turbines in Beaumont, Kansas, courtesy of Brent Danley on Flickr, license CC BY-NC-SA.]

3 Comments

Dave Damm-Luhr's picture

While we definitely need to

While we definitely need to grapple with those tough questions, we also need to find concrete paths to reconcile very different views of what the problem here is.  As I posted in ClimateX a few days ago 

Political alliances between unlikely partners - think Wyoming with its huge coal reserves and California - are rapidly become the unspoken norm.  It seems to me that some valuable lessons for how and what we need to be doing in the coming years to respond to the climate emergency are available in these stories.

In short, if we can find common ground across the spectrum - as the states of Wyoming and California (and others) are now - we stand a better chance of reconciling those tough (and now very abstract) questions.  I'm with Curt in thinking that it really doesn't matter why folks take actions, as long as they move us on a path to living sustainably.

Curt Newton's picture

Yes indeed, Rajesh. That

Yes indeed, Rajesh. That article from 2010 raises some very interesting fundamental questions about "having our cake and eating it too" -- known in wonky circles as "decoupling." Clearly that author does not believe it's possible, and certainly there are many good reasons to hold that view.

But the optimist techy consumerist in me wants to say that past results are no guarantee of future performance. What should we make of this 2016 Brookings Institute study showing that, in fact, from 2000-2014 there are solid signs of decoupling in the US? I know a lot of it can be attributed to natural gas taking over from coal; but the NYTimes article points to how clean energy may be poised to take over from natural gas in the very same cost-savings way, taking us further down the carbon curve.