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Renewable energy emerged as important election issue

By Dennis McGinn

This past Election Day was an historic event in American history for many reasons. Barack Obama is the only Democratic candidate since Franklin Roosevelt to win a majority of the popular vote twice. Republicans will retain control in the House, and Democrats will hold a 55-seat majority in the Senate.  There will inevitably be a shuffle of Cabinet members and on the important Committees in the House and Senate, and we await news of those changes.

But perhaps most importantly for the renewable energy industry, the people spoke on Election Day. The American Council on Renewable Energy's (ACORE) post-election polls found that swing-state voters rank renewable energy as an important election issue, and a majority of them were much more supportive of candidates who advocated the shift to cleaner, renewable energy than those who did not.

As we move further into 2013 and the seating of the 113th Congress, I wanted to touch upon some of the policies I believe to be important for our industry. Renewable energy policy has a history of bipartisan support, and based on the outcome of the elections, I expect to see this continue; although in the context of ongoing fiscal austerity discussions, Congress may be hesitant to push new measures.

I expect a renewed commitment to drive economic growth, and renewable energy is and should be an important component of economic growth. The President and Congressional leaders have discussed simplification of the tax system to promote economic growth. Policymakers will also debate the importance of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which has encouraged a great amount of capital to enter the U.S. renewable energy industry. Among other policies that will likely be addressed is Master Limited Partnerships (MLP) for renewable energy and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT).

According to a Texas A&M National Energy Opinion Poll, a majority of Americans want tax credits like the Production Tax Credit to be extended in order to continue the momentum of the wind industry's growth. The PTC has attracted private capital to the wind industry, creating American jobs, bringing wind energy to scale, and driving down the cost of electricity.

These tax credits are incredibly important on the state and local levels—keeping the momentum for businesses that were growing and employing people—and on a national level, strengthening America's energy posture and increasing America's national security and prosperity.

All forms of renewable energy have seen significant cost declines over the past few decades. The cost of wind turbine equipment has decreased by 40 percent since 2008. The cost of solar PV equipment has declined by 90 percent in the past two decades and 30 percent in the past two years. With the advances in renewable energy technology and decreases in the cost of electricity generated by renewables, renewable energy is fully competitive in some markets and on the right path in others.

There might not be a bigger believer in renewable energy than our military—the world's largest consumer of energy—which has already invested $5 billion since FY2009 to research, develop, test, demonstrate, and procure renewable energy to help power the strongest military force on earth and will continue to invest much more over the coming decades.

The Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to deny a partial waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is a policy decision that shows our country is taking the right steps to fuel our economy and shape our energy future. The continued production of biofuels benefits American consumers, creates American jobs, enhances national security, mitigates carbon emissions, and strengthens the biofuels industry, particularly in rural areas. I believe the EPA will maintain the standard.

Going forward, we at ACORE believe state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) will be challenged by the well-funded opponents of renewable energy. In the recent Michigan elections, a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to increase Michigan's renewable energy target from 10 percent to 25 percent by 2025 was defeated with help from over $270 million in advertisement dollars from the fossil fuel industry in the last two months of the election. Nonetheless, polling suggests that 73 percent of Michigan voters still support increasing renewable energy without a constitutional amendment. Aggressive RPS policies in other states, like California, Colorado, and New Jersey, have demonstrated the powerful impact such commitments can have on the expansion of state renewable energy markets. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, we can expect an additional 6 GW of incremental annual additions from state RPS programs over the period 2012-2020. 

Vice Admiral (ret.) Dennis McGinn is President and CEO of The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). The above For The Record is an excerpt from Mr. McGinn's recent Letter from the President.


January/February 2013