Whatever you feel about the two presidential candidates in other areas, if you work in the solar industry, their views on energy matter to the future of your business.
The next president will have a big say over the federal government’s energy policy. Depending on who’s elected, the White House will either offer big help or become a big pain for solar companies doing business in the US — and beyond.
Federal Support Key to Solar Success
Though many solar incentives happen on the state level, the federal government has increased demand for solar in several ways, including:
- Offering the 30% federal tax credit for solar installations, which the industry won the battle to extend last year.
- Setting national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by making utilities replace fossil fuels with clean energy, through such programs as the Clean Power Plan.
- Providing research and technical assistance to the industry through such programs as the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, “a national collaborative effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.”
Solar companies large and small have benefited from these and other federal support for solar power and renewables.
Based on what Donald Trump has said in the past, the industry would have to do without this kind of federal support in the future if Trump has his way.
Even worse, Trump has promised to increase support to traditional energy sources, which would help bring down the cost of electricity from coal and gas especially, making solar less competitive per kWh.
There’s one wild card in this picture, though.
His supporters love Trump for “speaking his mind,” and Trump’s is a mind that’s certainly open to change.
That’s why one solar company CEO and commentator thinks that once Trump saw its true economic potential, as a businessman, Trump could change his tune and become a solar supporter in the future.
Trump: “Solar is Not Working so Good”
First, let’s review what Trump has said about solar.
In his first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump repeated the line on solar power, renewable energy and climate change that he’s held consistently even before he entered the campaign for president.
As you’ll remember, he put out his infamous tweet about climate change being a Chinese hoax back in 2012:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Though he later claimed the tweet was a joke, recent comments show that Trump is still skeptical of climate science and opposes efforts by the US government to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. He’s also bearish on solar and renewables and wants to re-invigorate oil and coal. All these positions are consistent with the Republican Party’s platform on energy and climate.
A little he said/she said from the debate makes Trump’s views clear.
In response to moderator Lester Holt’s question about how each candidate would create jobs, Clinton replied that climate change, which she says is real, offers an opportunity to create jobs and help the economy.
“We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels. We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid. That’s a lot of jobs; that’s a lot of new economic activity,” Clinton proposed.
Then, in response, Trump criticized Clinton’s response and US energy policy under Obama:
[Clinton] talks about solar panels. We invested in a solar company, our country. That was a disaster. They lost plenty of money on that one. Now, look, I’m a great believer in all forms of energy, but we’re putting a lot of people out of work. Our energy policies are a disaster. Our country is losing so much in terms of energy, in terms of paying off our debt. You can’t do what you’re looking to do with $20 trillion in debt.”
“Though Trump did not name the solar company in question, the post-debate consensus was that he was referring to the Solyndra ‘scandal,‘ which occurred in 2011,” as Frank Anorka explains in pv magazine.
Solar CEO Cinnamon Forecasts A Pro-Solar Trump
These comments are not a deal breaker for one solar CEO.
Barry Cinnamon, CEO of two solar companies — Cinnamon Solar, a residential solar installer in San Jose, and racking manufacturer Spice Solar — acknowledges that neither Trump’s own statements nor the Republican platform offers much cheer for solar.
Yet Cinnamon, who identifies himself as a Republican, is holding out hope that Trump could change his mind on clean energy and then exercise his independence from the GOP leadership to embrace solar power for its business potential alone.
“The Republican platform was put together by the Republican National Committee, not Trump,” says Cinnamon in the episode of his weekly podcast released just before the debate. “So Trump is going to go his own way. And I’ve got to give him a lot of credit for that. He’s not beholden to anyone and he’s going to do what he thinks is best and he’s got a lot of really good ideas. But it’s going to diverge from the Republican Party platform.”
Cinnamon continues, finding cause for optimism in Trump’s independence:
Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trump make some comments saying, hey, solar’s pretty good. The Republican Committee wouldn’t like that but it makes a lot of economic sense. And in his heart, and in his heritage, Trump is a businessman. And there is a lot of good business in the renewable energy industry and the solar industry. So, I believe Trump would actually be as president be quite favorable of renewables as long as they don’t block his view of his golf courses and his homes on the shore.
Trump’s Career Shows No Support for Solar
I’d like to believe that this is possible. But just because something is a good business idea doesn’t mean that anyone who’s in business is obliged to eventually accept it.
His opponents argue that Trump isn’t much of a businessman but is really just a huckster. But even if you agree with Cinnamon that Trump “has got a lot of really good ideas,” even smart business leaders often make big mistakes.
Big businesses from Polaroid to Blockbuster Video to Borders Books were surely led by very smart people. But eventually they went extinct is because their management couldn’t make the leap to a new technology.
That goes for Trump too. Is there any evidence from his business career that Trump is any kind of innovator, or early adopter of technology? Or is he just an ordinary New York real estate developer?
And unlike many business leaders, Trump has spent his career in a business where he had many chances to use solar, by installing arrays on his buildings.
But did he take advantage of this unique opportunity to use solar?
A quick Google search does reveal that Trump fought the UK government’s effort to install 11 wind turbines offshore near his golf course in Scotland.
But I could find nothing in Google about Trump ever having solar installed in any of his developments.
If I’ve missed something, I’d love to know. But in the absence of any evidence at all that Trump used solar when he had the chance on his buildings, it seems unlikely that he’d suddenly get religion about clean energy when he entered the White House.
Of course, anything’s possible. As they say in commercials for mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.
Still, for now, I wouldn’t bet my business on Trump ever discovering that solar is a hot investment.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group