Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, railed against House lawmakers for “holding back the American economy” with what she characterized as uninformed attitudes toward renewable energy during an event in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
“I guarantee you, in the Senate, there is bipartisan anger...at our House colleagues for this stingy approach to tax extenders on renewable energy,” said Cantwell, referring to a fight over whether to extend credits for "orphan" energy technologies that were left out of the Republican tax overhaul. The credits were ultimately saved in a budget bill passed last month.
Cantwell asked attendees at the American Council on Renewable Energy’s Renewable Energy Policy Forum to help educate House members, “who may not have the same global view…on the success that we are [having].”
“We’re just in this very Draconian world over there that the tax bill is everything, even though everybody knows it has many, many problems and needs to be fixed,” she said of the House.
A tax reform bill proposed by House Republicans in November sought to slash tax credits for wind by more than a third and eliminate the $7,500 federal credit for electric-vehicle purchases. The credits were ultimately saved after the bill was reconciled with the Senate version.
House members have been more generous on incentives for fossil fuels. On Wednesday, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) introduced a bill that would subsidize coal-fired power plants with a tax credit. He cited the need for reliable baseload power in the event of a cold snap, echoing arguments used by Energy Secretary Rick Perry last year to justify a rule that would have subsidized coal and nuclear plants.
“The notion that the administration wanted to pick up, as I say, ‘the bat phone’ and call the Energy Secretary and tell him to call FERC and mandate coal was some of the most ridiculous policy I’ve ever seen,” said Cantwell of the failed DOE proposal.
Commissioner Robert Powelson, a Republican and Trump nominee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, reminded conference-goers on Wednesday that support for clean energy doesn’t always fall along party lines.
“I’m very bullish on the prospects of where we see cleantech investment going in this country, and I certainly will be a champion for it,” said Powelson.
Last month FERC commissioners unanimously approved a rule that will open wholesale energy markets to energy storage on an equal footing with generators and other grid resources -- a move that Powelson called a “game-changer.”
The key to swaying politicians’ views on renewable energy is making it a business issue, not a partisan one, says Heather Reams, the managing director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.
A conservative group, CRES is attempting to make inroads with GOP lawmakers on clean energy policy by supporting Republican officials who sponsor clean energy legislation. It currently endorses 24 members of the House.
“There’s been a lot of pressure on Republicans to vote like Democrats -- to vote for overhauls and massive federal programs,” said Reams. “I get why Republicans don’t get it, and I want to help them navigate that, to get to a place where they can say, ‘I never thought about that.’”
Last year CRES released an ad encouraging President Trump to stay in the Paris climate agreement, which featured support from top executives and members of the White House business advisory council.
Unlike most clean energy lobbying groups, CRES has a record of spending millions of dollars exclusively on Republican candidates. That spending has “accelerated our authenticity and believability of who we are,” said Reams.
“As a party, we shouldn’t keep our head in the sand,” she said.