Solar and other clean energy groups are embracing several wins – and noting some defeats – for the renewable energy industry as a result of the midterm election on Tuesday.
For one, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says it welcomes all the newly elected officials who are expected to “play a critical role in solar energy’s future in the U.S.”
Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, points out that the election has provided proof that “voters and elected officials of both parties recognize the tremendous benefits that solar brings to our economy, environment and the reliability of the grid” – what Hopper calls a “trifecta” of reasons why solar has “overwhelming support.”
Notably, in Nevada, voters approved Question 6, a measure to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 50% by 2030. Its neighbor Arizona, on the other hand, rejected Proposition 127, a similar measure calling for the same RPS.
According to Hayley Siltanen, an attorney at law firm Stoel Rives, the votes on these measures “appear to align with the gubernatorial and Senate elections in the states.”
“Just last year in Nevada, Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill that would have increased the state’s RPS to 40 percent by 2030,” she says. “This year, term limits prevented Sandoval from running for re-election, and voters elected Democrat Steve Sisolak for governor. Also in Nevada, a Democrat defeated the Republican incumbent in the Senate race.
“By contrast, in Arizona,” she adds, “Republican incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey was re-elected by a significant margin, and Republican Rep. Martha McSally won the Senate race.”
On the East Coast, the Sierra Club says a whopping 52 Massachusetts candidates endorsed by the group claimed victories.
“This election resulted in a marked uptick in climate champions and allies joining the ranks of our state legislative bodies,” says Deb Pasternak, interim chapter director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club also points out that Democrats have taken control of the New Hampshire House and Senate – importantly, “easing the path for the state to enjoy the full range of benefits from participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”
The group is also celebrating gubernatorial winners Jarid Polis in Colorado, J.B. Pritzker in Illinois, Janet Mills in Maine, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Kate Brown (incumbent) in Oregon and Tony Evers in Wisconsin – all of whom have said they would transition their states to run entirely on clean energy. In addition, replacing Gov. Jerry Brown in California, newly elected Gavin Newsom has voiced support for Brown’s recent signing of 100% clean energy legislation, the Sierra Club notes.
In Illlinois, newly elected Pritzker has “talked openly” about the state’s need to transition away from coal, according to the Sierra Club, which adds that the state elected a total of 17 “climate champions” who have endorsed 100% clean energy.
In Colorado, the Sierra Club says Polis was the state’s first-ever gubernatorial candidate to “run on a platform of driving the state toward a 100 percent renewable energy economy by 2040.” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, points out in a blog that Colorado’s Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate will further encourage the state’s “clean energy vision.”
Hitt also mentions important victories in New Mexico, where governor-elect Lujan Grisham vowed to make New Mexico “the clean energy state of America”; Nebraska, where new members of the Omaha Public Power District Board had campaigned on a “more aggressive push toward clean energy in contrast to their opponents”; Virginia, where “climate champion” Sen. Tim Kaine won the re-election; New York, where re-elected Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will continue to help New York “make good on its climate leadership”; and Maine, where there is a “welcome” departure of current Gov. Paul LePage with governor-elect Janet Mills, a “strong proponent of wind power and local renewable power.”
As for clean energy defeats, Stoel Rives attorney Rachel Cox points out the failure of Washington state to adopt a new carbon tax.
“After a hotly contested campaign, drawing tens of millions of dollars from both supporters and opponents, Washington’s carbon tax ballot initiative I-1631 failed on election day,” Cox says.
The measure sought to enact, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, a carbon emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon; the fee would have increased by $2 each year until Washington met its greenhouse-gas reduction goals. The revenue would have been devoted to funding environmental programs.
“This ballot initiative followed multiple unsuccessful attempts to adopt climate change regulation in the state – a failed 2016 carbon tax ballot initiative, the Department of Ecology’s carbon cap-and-trade program overturned in 2017, and several carbon tax bills introduced in the 2017-2018 Washington legislative sessions,” Cox adds.
“We do not expect that the push to adopt climate change regulation in Washington State will end here,” she says. “Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee has made climate regulation a major priority during his two terms, and both the Washington State House and Senate appear to be gaining stronger majorities through this election, which could lead to renewed efforts to pass climate change-related legislation in the next session.”
In another defeat, the Sierra Club’s Hitt mentions Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillumm, who was poised to be “an incredible champion for clean energy and the environment.” According to a recent update from the Florida Public Service Commission, the state is expected to grow its solar industry big time over the next decade.
“As evidenced again [on Tuesday] by several pro-solar candidates winning elections, voters want the government to do more to grow solar energy in the U.S.,” SEIA’s Hopper adds. “We look forward to working with all of the new and returning governors and members of Congress on policies that will expand solar markets, grow jobs, and make solar’s economic benefits available to more consumers and businesses.”
Also chiming in is the the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA), whose executive director, Jeff Cramer, says the results of the election “confirm a path to continued robust growth for community solar.”
“States such as Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Mexico are poised to consider and pass new programs for community solar in 2019,” he says. “We also see early community solar leaders, such as Colorado, Minnesota, New York and others, poised to expand and improve their existing programs to better serve customer demand for local solar.”
CCSA argues in a press release that unlike other polarizing issues in the country, community solar, rather, is a “bipartisan solution that advances principles aligned with both sides of the political aisle: choice and competition in the marketplace, increased consumer access to renewable energy, bill savings for business and families, and a safer and more resilient electric grid.” The group notes that community solar bills have been signed by governors from both parties across the country.
Cramer adds, “If newly elected lawmakers are looking for a bipartisan issue that can make a big impact in their communities, they need to look no further than community solar.”