Three Reasons Trump Doesn’t Matter To Energy Policy
The forces driving clean energy are likely to continue progressing regardless of efforts by President-elect Donald Trump to reverse them, a leading expert in energy policy said last week at Stanford University.
“I’m not saying it’s a good thing. We’re going to lose a lot of good stuff, but it’s not as bleak for this purpose as one might expect,” said Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation—an energy policy research firm based in San Francisco—during a Nov. 28 lecture at Stanford. The Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy released video of Harvey’s lecture on Monday.
Harvey briefed the Stanford audience on a paper he published earlier this year, “Climate: How To Win,” in which he describes ten successful energy policies and the six qualities they share. The paper considers policies like efficiency standards for fuel and appliances, building codes and renewable portfolio standards, and it notes the shared qualities of successful ones: they set goals, reward performance, require continuous improvement, etc.
After reviewing the ten successful policies and the six winning qualities, Harvey offered three reasons Donald Trump will have little success preventing such works in the future:
1. Most effective energy policies are set at the state level. And those that aren’t can be. Harvey offered numerous examples:
California has the right under the Clean Air Act to set its own emissions standards for vehicles, and other states have the option to follow California’s standards or the federal ones. “And so if we soften the new CAFE standard, that’s fine,” Harvey said. “California is going to do a Calexit and has done so, and ten other states with 50 percent of the country’s population are already on board.”
Policymakers can improve energy efficiency through building codes, and those are set at the state and local level. Just as it sets its own emissions standards, California sets its own energy efficiency standards, Harvey said, and other states copy them.
Urban planners can have a big influence over energy use, and urban design, said Harvey, is “clearly not a federal priority.”
Public utilities commissions have direct influence over power plants and utilities. “There are 50 of them in America; there are zero in Washington,” Harvey said. “There’s the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which probably can’t muck us up too badly.”
Utility-scale energy efficiency programs are established by the states.
States can pass carbon taxes or set up carbon markets. They can combine these efforts with other states, as nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states have done in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. “We have a carbon cap in California,” Harvey said. “That didn’t require the federal government.”
2. Momentum favors clean energy. “The technological and economic winds are definitely at our back,” Harvey said. Energy Innovation published a paper in August showing that it’s possible to build a brand new wind farm in Colorado, including all of its capital costs and installation costs, for less than the operating cost of an existing coal plant. “So that’s a nice threshold to cross,” Harvey said.
3. Technology trumps commodity. The only costs of wind and solar are capital costs to build and maintain technology. Fossil fuel plants have commodity costs for the fuel they burn. Commodity costs swing up and down, Harvey said, while technology costs tend to only go down. “So when a technology price crosses a commodity price, especially a low commodity price, you win.”