Per Capita Davis: There are some positive signs for renewables
My inbox gets filled with articles and information that’s interesting and important, but which doesn’t rise to the level of a 900-word column. Here are three of those items.
But will they vote?
Back in May, the Conservative Energy Network sponsored a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, “one of the nation’s top GOP polling firms,” to find out how millennials feel about energy efficiency and renewables. CEN, begun in 2016, believes that “to conserve is Conservative,” that there is a strong history and record of conservatives supporting clean energy, that clean energy policy has been “co-opted by the left,” and, “The time is now to depoliticize the issue and for conservatives to once again lead on energy policy offering solutions that encourage innovation, economic development, and the utilization of homegrown renewable energy.”
Energy policy has seemingly been ossified as a left versus right, Democrat versus Republican struggle. So, just the formation of a right/Republican/conservative group supporting sensible energy policy is a development worthy of attention. What is even more attention-grabbing are the results of their polling.
The poll apparently focused on young voters who identified ideologically either as conservative or independent.
Their poll found that 82 percent of millennials surveyed consider energy to be an important issue in the 2018 elections. By itself, this could mean energy broadly, including fossil fuels as well as renewables. And, indeed, 92 percent favor an “all of the above” approach to energy policy that would include coal, exploitation of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and drilling for offshore oil. Speaking of drilling, the survey drills down a bit and finds that 67 percent said they would be unlikely to vote for candidates who express opposition to solar, wind and other forms of clean energy, including 58 percent who identified as conservatives.
Further findings indicate 74 percent of independent millennials favor promotion of solar and 64 percent are gung-ho for wind power.
If the poll numbers indicate a momentum among young conservative voters towards energy policies that promote renewables, this is big news. The reality check is that, generally speaking, millennials have terrible turnout numbers in non-presidential-year elections — usually in the single digits or low teens, leaving the field to older voters.
The United Nations issued a report last April on the growth of solar and renewables worldwide. The New York Times article summarizing the results starts out with several very positive metrics.
First, solar is everywhere; “perched on thatched roofs in rural Kenya, helping Indian farmers pump groundwater for their fields and powering U.S. military bases.”
Second, “solar power accounted for more than a third of all electricity generated from energy sources that came online in 2017, a larger share than any other new source.”
Third, “solar power is becoming much more affordable. The cost of electricity from large-scale solar projects has dropped by 72 percent since 2009.”
The report also indicates that China is “the world leader in investing in renewables” and “accounted for nearly half of all renewable energy investment worldwide, pumping $86.5 billion into solar energy alone in 2017”. More generally, “renewables grew most significantly in 2017 where demand for electricity also grew,” with “developing economies accounting for 63 percent of global investment in renewable energy in 2017, up from 54 percent” in 2016.
Then comes the reality check. Even with all this good news, and the focus on renewables in developing countries giving us hope they don’t follow the same energy-intensive path to developing their economies that we did, globally only 12 percent of electricity demand is being met by solar. In a massive statement of the obvious, one of the authors of the report indicates that, “The fact that renewables altogether are still far from providing the majority of electricity means that we still have a long way to go.”
The report cites a reduction in investment in solar in the United States as a dark cloud on the future of renewables. Maybe votes from conservative millennials will help get us back on track.
In some states, regulators have set up road blocks to discourage the use of solar (photovoltaic) energy. Florida, until very recently, prohibited homeowners from leasing rooftop solar systems; if you wanted solar, you had to buy it outright. While the trend nationwide is to prefer purchasing to leasing, not being able to lease is a big impediment to many who just don’t have the upfront cash. Leasing provides these customers with a deal that involves no upfront cost and a guaranteed rate on electricity consumed in exchange for a third party to take the tax credits and depreciation advantages.
Other states have regulated solar to discourage its widespread adoption. One such state was Nevada in which the utility regulators in 2015 eliminated “net metering,” a policy that lets customers sell to the utility what their system produces at the same price the utility charges them for electricity it produces. The new regulation caused a 32 percent reduction in solar jobs and several large installers to quit doing business in Nevada. Just last June, the voters spoke, the Legislature overturned those regulations, and solar is back on track in Nevada.
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to email@example.com.
Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise
Cool Davis is a coalition of citizens, the City of Davis, and community organizations working to empower our community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.