Saturday, June 24, 2017

New Best Friends:  GOP Governors and Renewables

A number of Republican governors, like Iowa's Kim Reynolds, support clean energy programs. (Credit: Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio Images/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
While President Trump sings coal's praises, efforts to green America's economy are receiving a boost from an unexpected quarter:  Republican-held governors' mansions.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is fresh off a legislative session in which he signed nine bills aimed at supporting the clean energy sector.  In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a tax exemption that solar installers say is essential to jump-starting the residential and commercial market in the Sunshine State.  And in Iowa, where wind now accounts for 36 percent of the state's electricity generation, newly installed Gov. Kim Reynolds recently finished an energy plan that calls for growing the wind, biofuels, and solar industries.

"For years, our fields have fed the world.  Now, they energize it.  They produce products that fuel cars, and they host wind turbines that power our communities and businesses," Reynolds said in her inaugural address last month.  "And yet those fields are filled with untapped potential.  Our energy plan will help us continue to lead the way in wind energy and renewable fuels.  Working together, we can have the most innovative energy policy in the country."

The growing embrace of renewables by Republican governors stands in stark contrast to the president.  Trump's budget request for fiscal 2018 includes a 70 percent reduction to the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who has expressed concern about coal's decline and renewables' rise, has embarked on a grid reliability study.  And in speeches across the country, Trump has railed against renewables while promising to revive the coal sector.

Wednesday was the most recent example.

"We've ended the war on clean, beautiful coal, and we're putting our miners back to work," the president said during a campaign-style speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"I don't want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories," he said.

But in states like Iowa and Nevada, which lack a local fossil fuel industry, Republican leaders are becoming increasingly comfortable with renewables.  Wind now employs more than 8,000 people in Iowa.  Two utilities in the Hawkeye State announced plans last year to invest $4.6 billion in new wind farms.

Reynolds follows in the footsteps of longtime Gov. Terry Branstad (R), an outspoken wind advocate during six nonconsecutive terms in Des Moines. Branstad stepped down this year to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China.

As lieutenant governor, Reynolds led efforts last year to complete an Iowa Energy Plan.  It calls for more ambitious renewable energy targets, best practices to help municipalities site turbines and grid modernization pilot projects, among other measures.

The state's wind industry has helped attract Facebook, Microsoft, and Google data centers to Iowa, said Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor.

"In general, renewable energy has provided for local energy production, job and business growth, increases in property tax revenue, and clean energy production in our own backyard," Smith said. 

Read more at New Best Friends:   GOP Governors and Renewables

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