The White House may have an “America First” plan for energy that does not make even one mention of renewables, but many Republican and Democratic state governors are not having it. The Governors Wind and Solar Energy Coalition, which includes eight GOP and 12 Democratic governors, authored a letter to President Donald Trump on Monday urging him to change his tone on clean energy.
And these governors, led by Democratic Gov. Gina Riamondo of Rhode Island and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, are asking for deeds — notably money and streamlined permitted processes.
Govs. Riamondo and Brownback asked the federal government for funds to modernize the nation’s grid in order to integrate renewable power across the country; adopt legislation that will allow offshore wind power to scale on the country’s coasts; and boost research and development for both wind and solar power. Both governors also requested that the Trump administration work to streamline wildlife regulations so more solar and wind power installations can be built.
Both governors are in a strong position to reach through to Trump and the current Congress. Rhode Island is home to the Block Island Wind Farm, America’s first offshore wind installation. And Kansas is host to a booming wind power sector: The state procured almost a quarter of its electrical power capacity from its wind farms in 2015, with that amount increasing to an estimated 30 percent last year. Brownback, who is often criticized for his ties to the Koch Brothers, has publicly stated that he expects to meet half of his state’s energy needs with wind within the next few years.
In their letter, the cohort of governors point out that rural areas, which voted for Trump in record numbers and gave him enormous margins in his victory over Hillary Clinton, would benefit immensely from a boost in clean-energy investment.
Last year, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimated that the industry pays at least $222 million to rural landowners and farmers. Of that amount, the AWEA said $156 million went to landowners in low-income counties. Last fall, Bloomberg described wind as the “new corn” for struggling farmers as 70 percent of wind turbines in the U.S. are located in poorer counties. And Brownback has long touted wind as a key to economic development in Kansas as growing capacity can help the state export clean power to the rest of the nation while boosting rural economies.
And Brownback isn’t the only Republican governor going against the party’s hostility to clean energy. Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan recently signed a law that requires the state to source 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2021. And earlier this month, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation that could boost clean-energy development in his state by as much as $15 billion over the next several years.
The jury is out as to whether Trump’s energy secretary will listen to his GOP allies across America’s state capitols. Rick Perry, who once said the Department of Energy should be eliminated, is Trump’s choice to head the agency. But while he was governor of Texas, Perry’s policies in part pushed the Lone Star State to what is now the country’s largest wind power generation capacity.
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