Conservative stakeholders, business executives, and Republican Senators and Representatives convened at the second annual Conservative Clean Energy Summit in Washington, D.C. on September 21-23 to discuss the benefits of renewable energy technologies. The conference was hosted by the Christian Coalition and the Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, a group that believes that advancing clean energy in the United States will help achieve conservative goals, such as job creation and energy independence.

Clean energy's potential to contribute to U.S. energy independence was emphasized throughout the conference. According to the speakers, energy independence would not only make the United States less reliant on foreign imports but would also boost domestic job creation and economic growth by attracting capital investment in the power sector. To achieve energy independence, many Republicans recommend pursuing an “all of the above” strategy, featuring more production of renewable energy in addition to increased domestic production of fossil fuels (natural gas in particular).  

Making energy markets more competitive also figured as a key goal that renewables could help accomplish. Removing market barriers and allowing renewable energy technologies to compete on a level playing field could improve the quality of life of all Americans by reducing energy prices. The most impassioned argument for the benefits of expanding the role of renewable energy technologies came from Representative David Young (R-IA), “Greater availability and integration of renewable energy allows for more competition within energy markets. Consumers experience greater savings and a higher quality of life.”

Tapping into the tenets of conservative faith-based movements, Republican Members of Congress also spoke on the importance of acting as responsible stewards of the environment. Ensuring that future generations have access to clean air, healthy water, and can experience and embrace the natural wonders of this country was a policy objective that was continually touched upon. Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC) made the case for rebranding the nature of conservatism, “Too often we try to equate conservatism with just financial resources […] conservatism ought to apply to all resources.”

To emphasize that the time is ripe for a change in the way Republicans view energy and environmental issues, the Young Conservatives for Energy Reform presented the results of a poll they commissioned of 940 young voters who identify as conservatives. A strong majority (73 percent) of young conservative voters have a favorable view of the renewable energy industry—more than those who express a favorable view of the natural gas (67 percent), coal (56 percent) or nuclear industries (52 percent). An overwhelming 79 percent of respondents acknowledged that climate change is happening, and of those, 77 percent agreed that human activity is responsible for at least half of the rise in global temperatures. Only 37.7 percent of young conservatives say that climate change isn't happening at all, or, if it is, that it's primarily caused by natural patterns. About three quarters (74 percent) of those polled said we should address climate change, provided we do so in a way that doesn't harm the economy.

Interestingly, young conservative voters are slightly more likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on the issue of addressing climate change and supporting clean energy solutions. There seems, therefore, to be a tangible opportunity for the conservative movement to increase its appeal to young supporters by embracing a clean energy platform.

Embracing clean energy would likely not compromise the party's position with other age groups. A national poll commissioned by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a conservative-leaning advocacy group, found that 3 out of 4 voters (and 2 out of 3 Republicans) think the development of renewables should be a priority. A solid majority (60 percent) of Republican respondents also said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports a clean energy plan designed to strengthen the American economy through increased investment and innovation.

By bringing together conservative leaders and young activists from across the country, the Christian Coalition and the Young Conservatives for Energy Reform are helping to create a diverse coalition eager to transform the Republican Party’s stance on energy policy.


Author: Tyler Smith