analysis

Analysis: US 2020 election: what is at stake for clean energy in this election cycle?

The Roscoe Wind Farm, in Texas pictured at sunrise. Photo credit: Fredlyfish4 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

When Donald Trump took office in January 2017 following his surprising 2016 victory, he did his best to support the coal industry and attack renewables. But it did little to help save the coal industry (one of his campaign promises) which has continued to struggle during his presidency, with many plants closing. And while Trump has not held back on misleading statements about solar and wind the demise on the clean energy industry has not materialised, largely due to individual states such as California having strong clean energy mandates in place. 

The 2020 election

Looking ahead to this year’s election, it will be much more important who wins the House, Senate, and Governor races as well as the presidency and local elections. If Biden wants to carry out his ambitious climate plans then it matters who controls the Senate and the House, additionally, climate and clean energy-friendly Governors will only speed up the transition. The Senate seems to be the key battleground where a third of seats are up for re-election and it is currently tipped that Democrats will win back control.

As Trump has already put in place thge motions to exit the US from the Paris Agreement and rolled back the Obama era Clean Power Plan, he has made it easier from the fossil fuel industry to thrive. Were Biden to be elected as the 46th US President he would make life harder for the fossil fuel industry and has already pledged to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, rolling the US back into the Paris Agreement, making clean energy even more attractive and fossil fuels less attractive for energy investors and the demand for clean energy technologies such as wind and solar would increase. His pledge to accelerate the electric vehicle industry would also start to make a dent in the oil industry and make clean energy technologies more favourable. 

How important is the government in driving forward the clean energy transition?

However, were Trump to win the election he would continue to bail out the fossil fuel industry. The ironic thing is that the free market, which Republicans love, would not be able to save the fossil fuel industry at this point, the only way to ensure that would be interventionist policies such as subsidies and tax breaks. 

If Trump won it would not be game over for renewables, it is just the pace of growth would be slower than it would under a Biden administration. 

But the speed of growth is not largely driven by the government but much more by investors, energy companies and the tech industry. Unless Trump severely makes a move to diminish the industry, big infrastructure projects like offshore wind and the hydrogen revolution would continue to gather pace. It would be hard for Trump to clamp down on the clean energy industry as solar and wind are important ingredients in individual Republican states’ economies such as Texas. 

If Biden wins the presidency and the Democrats also win the House and the Senate, legislation could be introduced to further speed up the clean energy transition such as a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. 

Conclusion

Without a doubt, the US clean energy industry would prefer a Biden administration as more clean energy-friendly policies would emerge as well as more federal funding for the industry and fossil fuel companies would have no option but to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels in order to survive. 

Another four years of Trump will not kill the clean energy industry but could slow down progress.

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