United States

United States

Success for clean energy advocates in US elections

Climbing a wind turbine was a key image of Michelle Lujan Grisham's successful campaign for election of governor in New Mexico in the US midterm elections

New Mexico governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham atop a turbine in a TV campaign
New Mexico governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham atop a turbine in a TV campaign

"You don’t see a lot of candidates for governor out here, much less one willing to climb a 26-storey ladder," said the voiceover of the promotional video.

Grisham was subsequently elected in the midterm elections in November, and will take office in January along with a slew of other candidates across the US who advocated for clean energy.

But the outcome of the midterm elections, when hundreds of new and re-elected politicians were committed to 100% clean energy, was hardly the seismic shift that some have claimed.

However, it is undoubtedly an acceleration of the existing move towards greenhouse gas reduction in the absence of federal action.

Green wave

The trend of utilities steadily buying more clean energy, had been under way for years, sometimes because of state requirements or because renewables are cost-effective and available, noted Frank Maisano, an energy policy strategist at the Bracewell law firm in Washington DC.

In many of the state and local elections, in which the League of Conservation Voters lists 100% renewable clean winning politicians, proponents will still face a robust opposition, even if it is dwindling in the longer term.

They will also have to contend with constraints in transmission and other logistics. "Some of them don’t understand the challenges and pushback," said Maisano.

There were at least five winners — all Democratic Party members — in state governor elections who made decarbonisation a central theme, said Stephen Munro, a policy analyst at BloombergNEF (BNEF).

The states — Oregon, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Colorado and Illinois — may become part of a shift in policy in specific regions.

Other new governors can be expected to seek more aggressive renewable portfolio standards in their states, including Maine, Nevada, and Grisham in New Mexico.

But in contrast, a carbon tax initiative in Washington state failed for the second time.

Arizona voters also decisively rejected a ballot question to raise their state’s renewable energy mandate to 50%, despite strong financial backing for the measure from Californian billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer.

And although Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment for 50% renewable energy by 2030, the measure must be passed a second time, and the voters refused to open their power market to competition.

"That gives the state’s dominant utility continued control over the power mix and blocks wind and solar developers from market access," said Munro.

He added BNEF had not changed its forecasts for new US renewables capacity following the elections.

State of the nation

Nationally, Democrats retook the House of Representatives.

"With their majority, the Democrats will bring opposition party tactics to bear against President Trump’s climate and clean energy policies," said Munro.

In Congress, Democrats may dilute or block Trump’s still-pending proposal to give coal and nuclear priority in the generation-dispatch queue.

Indeed, some incoming Democrats are pushing for a ‘Green New Deal’ to move the country towards clean energy.

The original New Deal, in the post-Depression era, consisted of projects and programmes designed to spur recovery.

But don’t expect the Democrats to be strong enough to turn back Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the 2015 Paris climate accord or his imposition of import duties on wind and solar equipment — as well as on steel — from China and elsewhere.

The expiration of the Production and Investment Tax Credits, legislated by Congress, will almost certainly remain intact as well.

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