Clinton or Trump: which energy will America choose?

Voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump could also mean deciding whether to vote for renewable energies or not. (Photo based on elements by Pixabay-users Maialisa and skeeze)
Voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump could also mean deciding whether to vote for renewable energies or not. (Photo based on elements by Pixabay-users Maialisa and skeeze)

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? When choosing the next President of the United States, in November, Americans will also decide if the country’s economy will be powered by solar or oil and gas.

In the past months the two presumptive nominees (at the time of writing, they both have to be endorsed by their parties’ national conventions) have laid out their energy programmes. The Democrats and the Republicans have traditionally held different views on anything about the economy, but in this case the difference is huge.

“Making America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century” is the motto of Hillary Clinton. An “America first energy plan” to “make America great again” is the slogan of Donald Trump. Except for a patriotic appeal, the two plans have nothing in common. Clinton’s vision is all about solar, while fossil fuels dominate the energy future according to Trump. “The gap on environmental and climate issues between Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump is the largest in US political history,” commented the Sierra Club, an influential grassroots organization.

Solar Clinton

Hillary Clinton, like Obama, links energy policies to climate change. Her manifesto promises a reduction of greenhouse gases by up to 30% by 2025 and more than 80% by 2050 compared to 2005. Solar is the centerpiece of the strategy. The aim is to reach 500 million PV panels, with 140 GW of installed solar capacity by 2020. This, says the plan, corresponds to a 700% increase from current levels and to powering with solar over 25 million homes.

Grants, awards and tax incentives, including a US-$60 billion Clean Energy Challenge, will be deployed to encourage the uptake across states, cities and rural communities. The Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s regulation to limit carbon emissions from power plants, will be extended. The idea is also to strengthen the grid and to expand the installation of renewables on public land and federal buildings. In addition, Clinton wants to cut by a third energy waste in homes and public buildings and to “make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.” The priorities for R&D are “storage technology, designed materials, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and sequestration.”

In such scenario, what is the place of fossil fuels? Clinton aims to reduce oil consumption by a third, end tax subsidies for oil and gas companies and ensure that production is “safe and responsible.” This means it won’t take place in sensitive areas like the Arctic. As coal will be phased out, US-$30 billion will be allotted to secure benefits and diversify employment in communities where this fuel is an important part of the economy. Clinton also wants to limit fracking. “By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place,” she said. According to the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington DC, questions remain about the role of gas: “Clinton sees natural gas as a bridge fuel, though at this point it’s not clear how long that bridge is.”

Fossil Trump

The vision of Donald Trump is the very opposite. His energy strategy pivots on oil, natural gas and coal in the name of jobs and “complete energy independence.” Clinton has a long-term plan? Trump has a list of actions for his first 100 days, which he presented at a petroleum conference in North Dakota, a hotspot of America’s oil industry.

A climate change denier, Trump intends to scrap the Paris climate agreement, which “gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use in America,” and to stop the payments to the UN climate programmes. There is no mention in his plan of technologies to abate carbon emissions, but the promise to rescind all “job-destroying” actions of the Obama administration on climate change. He wants more drilling, more fracking and less regulation.

Trump sees America’s energy resources as a way to generate revenues to be re-invested in building schools and public infrastructures. “Every dollar of energy we don’t explore here, is a dollar of energy that makes someone else rich over there,” he claimed.

There is a glimmer of hope for renewables, however, when he says he wants to “get the bureaucracy out of the way of innovation”, so that all forms of energy can be pursued. He mentioned in particular “nuclear, wind and solar energy”. But, as a supporter of the market principles, he thinks these should not be “to the exclusion of other energy” and that “the government should not pick winners and losers.”

Reality check

Commentators of the different camps have criticized the two energy plans. Some believe that Clinton’s solar programme is too ambitious, but the expectation is that pushing economies of scale will trigger further reductions of prices, making solar increasingly appealing.

Many analysts have highlighted the inconsistencies of Trump’s programme. The Washington Post called it “dangerous and nonsensical”, not only for climate change but for the coal industry, especially as the oil and gas production in the US is at historic highs. “If Trump were to succeed in driving large increases in domestic natural gas production it would accelerate the decline in coal burning that has devastated the coal industry. He can’t save the coal industry, and he certainly can’t do it while pumping more gas,” wrote Richard Martin, senior editor for energy for the MIT Technology Review.

Trump also seems to neglect that the renewable energy industry has created in only few years almost 380,000 jobs, of which 300,000 in solar, according to a study commissioned by the Department of Energy to BW Research Partnership. Demand for renewables keeps growing, including from multinational corporations that committed to sustainability targets. So unless Trump plans to alienate a large part of the business sector, he may just let the market take its own course.

Claudia Delpero

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