Donald Trump hasn't explicitly produced an energy policy. But over the last couple of years, he's treated renewable energy and climate change with the same disdain and mockery that he's dished out to Mexicans, Muslims, women, his fellow Republicans, journalists, and even people with disabilities.
Last week, Trump unveiled his energy adviser: North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer. Representative Cramer is a staunch oil and gas supporter and a climate skeptic. But he also supports a low carbon tax as an alternative to federal carbon regulations.
That hasn't changed anything. After numerous publications wrote about Rep. Cramer's openness to a carbon tax, the presumptive Republican nominee took to Twitter to straighten things out:
.@thehill Your story about me & the carbon tax is absolutely incorrect—it is just the opposite. I will not support or endorse a carbon tax!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2016
That's about as detailed as Trump gets on energy policy.
So what about his presumptive rival in the general election, Hillary Clinton? Turns out, she sees things a bit differently.
Throughout the course of the primary campaign, Secretary Clinton has been very outspoken on climate change, carbon pricing, clean energy jobs, and the need to value emerging distributed energy resources. And her energy policy adviser, Trevor Houser, says she's just getting started.
Last week, GTM Research Senior VP Shayle Kann chatted with Houser on stage at our Solar Summit about how climate change and clean energy will factor into the presidential campaign. Houser provided details on how Secretary Clinton would contrast herself against Trump, and how she would execute her plan if elected to the White House.
The conversation below has been edited for clarity and length. For access to video of all our panel discussions from the Solar Summit, become a Square.
Shayle Kann: Why don't we start by talking about the primary campaign so far? To what extent has climate and energy played a major role in the primary campaign as it's gone on, and how would you characterize the hot issues thus far?
Trevor Houser: It hasn't. As our campaign chairman, John Podesta, likes to say, campaigns are about friction. In the primary, this isn't the issue where there's the greatest friction between the two leading Democratic candidates. Both think that climate change is one of the most significant issues facing the United States, that we have an imperative to address it, that we need to defend and build on the progress of the Obama administration, and accelerate clean energy deployment.
It's mostly been a difference about strategies and tactics. Senator Sanders has proposed broad, ambitious legislation. Secretary Clinton is looking at using whatever is available -- through existing authorities, through partnerships with the state, through direct federal investments -- to make progress in a way that doesn't rely on Congress. It's been mostly a debate about tactics and how we get there, not about the goals.
Shayle Kann: There have been some specific places where issues related to climate and energy have come to the fore. West Virginia would be a good example where coal jobs [became] a whole thing. Ahead of the Nevada caucuses, we were in the midst of this net energy metering kerfuffle, which actually did end up being something that Secretary Clinton and, I think, Senator Sanders discussed at some point.
As you are advising the campaign on these kinds of issues, how do you look at things like that as they're coming up at the state level, and how do you develop policy around that?
Trevor Houser: If you think about this election cycle compared to 2012 and 2008, the clean energy revolution is very real. There's steel on the ground and jobs being created around this country -- as opposed to 2008, where it was mostly kind of hypothetical, and 2012, where it was still fresh in people's minds. The oil and gas sector was creating more jobs than anything else in the economy.
Now we've got 208,000 people working in solar. It's one of the fastest-growing sectors in the economy. It's actually a really good and exciting issue to run on this cycle because it's one of the brightest job creation stories out there. The clean energy transition has also gotten to the level where it's raising some policy challenges -- whether that's rate design and net metering, whether it's the dislocation in coal communities in central Appalachia. You have seen that pop up over the course of the campaign.
If you had asked me two years ago whether I thought that Secretary Clinton would be reading detailed memos on net metering and rate design in Nevada, I would have said probably not. It's interesting that a number of the primary states are really at the leading edge of clean energy deployment.
Shayle Kann: As you mentioned, there have been some differences in tactical proposals on what we want to do. Do you mind walking us through what specific proposals Secretary Clinton has come out with that relate to clean energy? How do those tactics differ from what others might propose?
Trevor Houser: How Secretary Clinton thinks about this is twofold. One, that climate change is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century, and that American leadership is critical to solving it. Two, that clean energy has the potential to be one of the primary economic drivers in the United States in the 21st century.
As she likes to say, "Someone is going to become the clean energy superpower of the 21st century. It's going to be China, or it's going to be us." She wants it to be us. Those two are tied in her mind.
Early in the campaign, she put out three big goals that she wants to achieve within the first 10 years of taking office. Generating enough renewable energy to power every home in the country with half a billion solar panels installed in the first term. Half a billion solar panels -- for people who don't speak gigawatts -- that's 140 gigawatts AC.
Shayle Kann: Let's talk about that solar goal, in particular 140 gigawatts by 2020. For context, our forecast, absent major changes, is about 100 gigawatts cumulative by 2020. What could be done by the next president to get us from 100 gigawatts that might happen regardless to 140 gigawatts in the next four years?
Trevor Houser: Let me talk about our strategy for meeting our targets as a whole, and then specifically how that would apply to solar.
There's three components. The first is defending, implementing, and extending commonsense federal standards that drive clean energy deployment and efficiency that use existing authorities, that don't require new action by Congress. Whether that is full defense and implementation of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, federal building energy codes, appliance standards, or fuel economy.
The second is recognizing that those standards are the floor and not the ceiling, and recognizing how much energy policy is made at the state and local level. We're only going to get to where we need to go with a new partnership between the federal government and the states. She's proposed a $60 billion clean energy challenge that would create a partnership with states, cities, and rural communities that are ready to lead on clean energy, exceed federal standards, and accelerate deployment. The third is direct federal investments in infrastructure, innovation, and federal procurement, and leveraging the power the federal government has to drive clean energy deployment efficiency.
Shayle Kann: Let's talk for a second about the second one of those, the $60 billion proposed program. How would that actually play out? Give an example of a way in which that might result in more accelerated solar deployment in a given state or community.
Trevor Houser: For states that submit implementation plans under the CPP that go above and beyond what's required by that rule and accelerate clean energy deployment, we'd provide competitive grants. Cities that streamline building codes and permitting procedures for rooftop solar installation, states that adopt principles in rate design that promote equity and competition and transparency, will qualify for competitive grants.
Shayle Kann: What can we do without needing congressional approval? Is it a totally foregone conclusion that you're not going to get anything positive done on clean energy with Congress?
Trevor Houser: No. We're not taking Congressional action off the table. We're optimistic about taking back the Senate. I guess it is possible we could take back the House.
[Editor's note: This interview was edited by GTM from its original live version for brevity and clarity. An earlier version of this post mentioned that Senator Clinton would "be taking comprehensive energy and climate policy off the table." The Clinton campaign responded to say that this was not reflective of their policy, and that they are instead "not betting" on comprehensive legislation. The quote was stripped out of the original version for the sake of clarity.]
The politics in the Republican Party of climate and clean energy have evolved in a pretty unhelpful direction. I was looking back at the 2008 Republican Party platform, which describes fossil fuels as a threat to our national security and our way of life. [It included] calls for a complete elimination of fossil fuels over time. Seriously.
This is the 2008 Republican Party platform. You can look at it. It calls for a cap-and-trade program. The standard-bearer of the Republican Party in 2008, [John McCain] said that climate change would be one of his top three priorities as president. He had authored cap-and-trade legislation. By 2012, all mention of climate change had been struck from the Republican Party platform.
The standard-bearer this year thinks that climate change is a Chinese hoax, and is more concerned about nuclear holocaust that would raise the average temperature on the planet.
The Republican Party has really steered off into the ditch on this issue. We think that it's too important of an issue to be betting the farm on them suddenly changing their mind.
If they do, that's great. We're primarily focused on strategies that don't require the Republican Party coming back to science.
Shayle Kann: Let's presume that Secretary Clinton is the Democratic nominee and that she's up against Donald Trump. The question is, will this issue be a major factor in a general election campaign, or is it just going to disappear until somebody gets elected?
Trevor Houser: From our standpoint, I think it will be more of a factor in the general then in the primary. Again, because elections are about friction. There are some very real differences between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, particularly between Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump on the issue of climate change. Those are differences that we're going to be actively highlighting.
This wasn't a big issue in the 2008 race because Barack Obama and John McCain supported cap-and-trade legislation. There were differences in their plan. Obama wanted to auction all the permits. John McCain wanted to allocate them. They had subtle differences about nuclear. The truth is, it just wasn't an issue that had a lot of friction in it. It very much does this cycle.
For us, it extends beyond the narrow issue of climate change. This is about whether we as a country believe in science and innovation and want to invest in the industries of the future, or whether we want to cling to a fantasy that we can go back to an economy of the past.
I think that contrast is going to be pretty stark.
Shayle Kann: So what does that look like then? How does it come out? Is this advertising-type campaigns that are focused on climate change? How do you bring it to the forefront?
Trevor Houser: As Donald Trump says, "If I have a secret plan for the general election, I shouldn't tell you right now because you'll know what my secret plan is."
I think what's great, from a campaign standpoint, is there are concrete examples all across the country of clean energy putting people to work, lowering bills, creating new opportunity in cleaning up the air. We have the ability to highlight those stories as we travel around the country. I think it's not just in the media and on the debate stage, but it's on the campaign trail actively highlighting those success stories as we move across the country.
Shayle Kann: Presuming that Secretary Clinton then becomes president of the United States, what are you looking at in her first term? What are the things that you think she would have to confront that will relate to climate or energy or, in particular, solar? Apart from just implementing those plans that she set out in the primary.
Trevor Houser: I think that there is the need to defend the gains that we've made over the past seven years. Whether it's the Clean Power Plan that's under attack by Republicans and state and the courts, whether it's the midterm review for CAFE standards for light-duty vehicles that's going to come up fairly early in the next administration. Appliance standards. Development of building codes. I think that the issues around rate design that the rapid growth of distributed energy resources is creating are obviously going to be an issue in an area where we think that the federal government can be an active and helpful partner.
Shayle Kann: What role does the federal government have to play in helping to facilitate productive conversations around [rate design]?
Trevor Houser: I think figuring out how to appropriately value distributed energy resources is an analytically challenging issue. I think that the federal government has an important role to play both in providing the tools and analytical capacity to help understand these issues and identifying best practices and helping to share them in other areas.
This is an area where states really are serving as a laboratory of democracy as to how we address this. The federal government can help provide a platform for sharing what works and what doesn't work among other states. [Clinton's] clean energy challenge provides incentives that can be used to help steer state policy in that direction.
Missed Solar Summit? You can still come to our Grid Edge World Forum where we'll be talking about rate design, policy and the future of the electric grid.