Donald Trump’s White House is not likely to be good for the future of utility-scale or rooftop solar energy or for the future of the planet. The good news is that solar energy has enough momentum to shine through the cloudy two to four years ahead.
Trump is among those who believe the vast majority of the globe’s best scientific minds are behind an elaborate “hoax,” aimed at fraudulently convincing the public that humans and their fossil fuels are damaging the environment, leading to dramatic climate change and the rapid melting of polar ice caps.
Since Trump believes, contrary to scientific consensus, that human behavior has nothing to do with our changing environment, it makes sense he wouldn’t care to make any changes to human behavior in the United States and wouldn’t feel compelled to encourage change in other countries around the world. So, with that, he has vowed to “cancel” the Paris agreement President Barack Obama negotiated with world leaders last year to reduce carbon emissions.
Furthermore, most of the advances Obama made on environmental policy and regulation resulted from fragile executive orders that Trumps will easily unravel. And with a Republican-controlled Senate and House, even more established policies and incentives could disappear. Congress extended the Investment Tax Credit that rebates up to 30 percent of the cost of a new solar installation out to 2020. With new leadership, that extension could be reversed.
Solar advocates say they believe there is enough bipartisan support for solar to protect the credit. And it’s also likely that dismantling progressive environmental policies might take a back seat to more high-profile concerns such as repealing the Affordable Care Act, giving the tax credit at least a year more before it’s threatened. But, there’s no telling what will happen until it happens, as evidenced by the election. The new leadership in Washington certainly creates an atmosphere of uncertainty for the country’s fastest growing energy sector.
Beyond what Trump and the legislature can do directly, there is an indirect threat. Greentech Media reported that solar advocates worry the new leadership will embolden utility companies to more aggressively pursue rate hikes for solar customers and reduce net metering benefits, a battle between private utility company interests and the public they're supposed to serve that has been underway in numerous utility jurisdictions for years and has been a growing issue.
While the forecast for solar policy is cloudy, there remains a bright spot.
Solar energy accounted for a greater share of all new electric production installed in the US for the second year in a row in 2015 and is on track to outpace coal, nuclear, and natural gas yet again this year.
Solar prices have been plummeting. While they were already nearing grid parity, recent dramatic declines (which are extremely hard on solar panel manufacturers), are making solar even more cost competitive.
Add to low solar costs, the advances in energy storage technology and you have a strong industry that’s getting close to working without any subsidies at all.
The momentum behind solar energy technology and the rate at which home and business owners are installing rooftop solar panels, mean that Trump and a Republican congress will not likely derail it even if they actively target it and try. Of course, it’s unlikely they would target solar for destruction. For even the most anti-green energy politician, actively fighting to obliterate one of the nation’s fastest growing industries that’s providing more new jobs than most others when 80 percent of adults in the country believe we should install more solar, would seem a rather foolish political maneuver.