US: Trump sets out energy aspirations


June 3, 2016

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Three months ago we asked when wind should start worrying about a Donald Trump presidency. Now we know: 26 May.

This is when the divisive tycoon secured enough delegates to be the Republican Party’s candidate for this year’s presidential race. It was also the day when he set out more details on his planned energy policy. In five months, he may be able to enact his plan.

Now, as with most of Trump’s policies, we should be careful about using the words ‘details’ and ‘plan’. Neither were particularly in evidence as Trump gave a speech in North Dakota, where he set out a series of ideas that look inconsistent and ill-though-out.

Such criticisms have not stopped Trump so far, though, and there is plenty here to worry investors in wind. For example, there are two major pieces of legislation in his crosshairs.

In the US, Trump is looking to delay or cancel Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is stuck in the US court system. Several states and coal companies are taking legal action against the plan because they claim that carbon emissions cannot be regulated in the way that the rules propose, and a hearing on its future is due in late September. Obama wants to use the plan to grow renewable energy production in the US by 30% by 2030, but Trump is looking to reinvigorate the coal industry. The CPP is under threat.

Trump also pledged to cancel the deal agreed by 196 countries at the United Nations climate change talks in Paris in November and December. Countries agreed to keep global warming below 2°C from pre-industrial levels, but Trump has taken issue with the fact that it restricts the ability of the US to pursue its preferred energy policy. If this deal is torn up, it would harm investment in green energy both in the US and in any other committed country.

Investors in wind energy would lose out if these were scrapped.

And there was more confused thinking. As well as pledging to scrap regulations on coal, Trump committed to cut the country’s reliance on other nations for its energy — but at the same time said he would back the US-Canada Keystone XL oil pipeline project.

Things were no better when he tackled wind specifically, as he trotted out lines about wind being too expensive, even though it is cheaper without subsidies than coal in many parts of the US; and about how many birds are killed each year by wind turbines, even though turbines are responsible for only 0.1% of the bird deaths in the US each year. None of this bodes well for wind and, though we may laugh, President Trump is no laughing matter.

Wind can expect to hear more of these arguments in the months ahead as the idea of President Trump becomes more plausible. It is worth wind businesses worldwide being prepared for this.

Yes, we can say that Trump’s objection to “phony” climate change is horribly out of step with most climate scientists. Yes, we might laugh at the definition of coal, gas and oil as ‘American energy’, as if energy from wind farms in the US built by US firms is somehow un-American. But the fact is that Trump stands a far better chance of becoming US president than most of us would like to admit.

His likely Democrat rival Hillary Clinton is still struggling to secure her own nomination, and is seen as untrustworthy by large parts of the electorate. Trump’s jibes about ‘crooked Hillary’ may pander to the lowest common denominator, but we have seen so far that these insults stick. To win, he does not need to be perfect. He just needs to be the least worst in a two-horse race.

We would love to see some pro-wind policies from Trump. Failing that we would like to see an energy policy that is coherent and thought-out, which gives investors certainty. But we are unlikely to get either. Shaky policies have not held Trump back so far.

That is reason enough for wind to start worrying.

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