On February 13, 2017, the Governors’ Wind & Solar Energy Coalition—a bipartisan group of American governors—published an open letter to the Trump Administration pushing for federal support of the renewable energy industry. The letter, which was spearheaded by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R), addressed the beneficial economic impacts of the renewable energy sector, which has transformed rural, low-income communities by creating thousands of jobs and providing new sources of energy. The coalition’s requests were broken down into four main sections:


Federal Support for Grid Modernization and Transmission Infrastructure

The coalition believes that the Trump Administration’s support for new infrastructure should include plans for modernizing the nation’s aging electricity grid. This would help support the expansion of renewable energy, allowing for nationwide energy transmission to counterbalance intermittent local generation. The letter asks that the White House create a “new state-federal task force… to examine options to modernize and streamline state and federal regulatory processes.” Grid modernization is critical for renewable energy to meet its full potential.


Adopting Long-term Offshore Wind Development Legislation

Presently, the United States only has one active offshore wind project (the Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, which started operating in 2016). However, in its 2015 Wind Vision report, the Department of Energy found that the country could support 22 gigawatts (GW) of new wind projects by 2030, and possibly up to 86 GW by 2050. What’s more, other parts of the world are vastly ahead of America in this industry. In 2015, Europe saw a 108.3 percent increase in offshore wind power capacity, with a total of 419 new turbines built across the continent. The coalition asserts that by capitalizing on this investment opportunity, an American offshore wind industry could, “create thousands of jobs in research and development, engineering, manufacturing, marine construction and other sectors.”

In order to be successful, the offshore wind industry will initially require federal support to gain market share and achieve economies of scale. Tax incentives will be key to driving successful investment in offshore wind projects—however, because offshore wind investors need a faster return on investment, an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) would better suit this project than the Production Tax Credit (PTC). The coalition argues that for offshore wind to be successful, there must be a long-term extension of a 30 percent ITC. As things stand, the credit will expire before any qualifying offshore wind projects are completed. Two specific bills—The Offshore WIND Act (S.3036) and Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act (S.1736)—could provide the necessary federal assistance by extending ITC for offshore wind through 2025, and allowing the first 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind to qualify for ITC, respectively.


Increasing Wind and Solar Research and Development Appropriations

The Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program provides federal funding for large-scale commercialization of clean technology, which would not otherwise be funded by the private sector due to investment risk. These loans have allowed renewable energy industries such as the solar industry to demonstrate their commercial capacity, prompting private investment and subsequently allowing them to blossom into full-fledged market sectors of their own. The government also funds robust research and development programs for wind and solar energy. These initiatives have helped the renewable energy industry grow, but there have been proposals to cut such funding even though solar and wind power are not yet fully cost-competitive. The coalition believes that cutting funding would “cede leadership in these critical technologies to other nations…such as China,” allowing these other nations to reap the economic benefits of technological expansion. Ultimately, this could result in the United States importing wind and solar equipment from other countries, and falling vastly behind in the advancing green energy marketplace.


Improving the Permitting Process for Solar and Wind Energy Projects

Currently, being awarded a permit to begin a solar or wind energy project is a cumbersome, slow-moving process. While the governors do not wish to do away with all regulations, they want to improve collaboration with the federal government to allow wildlife-friendly projects to move forward more rapidly. In particular, they suggest that assistant secretary-level appointees from specific key agencies should hold quarterly meetings in order to stimulate discussion about progress and potential barriers faced by renewable energy projects.


The coalition is made up of eight Republican governors and twelve Democrat governors representing 20 states—Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington. Each of these states has seen substantial job growth within the renewable and sustainable energy sectors. Ultimately, the governors of these states believe that investing in solar and wind energy is not only good for our environment, but also a necessary economic boost, especially in rural areas. Their letter to the President states that the growth of renewable energy is an “American success story,” and that they hope to see advancement in this field.


Author: Emma Dietz