| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Nov 28 U.S. wind and solar
companies for the first time gave more money to Republicans than
Democrats during the 2016 election cycle, according to federal
campaign disclosures, part of a years-long effort to expand
renewable energy's appeal beyond liberal environmentalists.
The industry is now hoping its strategy of reaching across
the political divide will pay off in the form of Congressional
support as Republican Donald Trump, a climate change skeptic who
has expressed doubts about the role of clean energy, takes the
White House in January.
"We're not starting from ground zero," said Isaac Brown, a
principal at 38 North Solutions, which lobbies on behalf of
clean energy clients.
The U.S. wind and solar industries employ over 300,000
people, making clean energy an important political constituency
that is about five times bigger than the coal sector for jobs,
thanks to years of rapid growth fueled by government incentives
and declines in the cost of their technologies.
They have also fought to win over a new breed of backer:
conservatives skeptical of climate change but interested in
supporting homegrown energy alternatives that increase national
security, boost competition, and create well-paying blue collar
But Trump's upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in
the Nov. 8 presidential election has cast doubt on the future of
a federal tax break for renewable energy seen critical to the
industry's continued growth.
Trump has never specifically called for those credits to
end, but has expressed skepticism about the role of solar and
wind in the U.S. energy landscape, calling both "so expensive"
and blaming wind turbines for killing birds and ruining
During his campaign, Trump also called global warming a hoax
and promised to quit a global accord to cut greenhouse gas
emissions, though he has since softened his stance and said he
is keeping an "open mind" about the deal.
The renewable energy industry got a boost last year when
Congress approved a five-year extension of tax credits for new
power projects fueled by solar panels and wind turbines, and the
industry's main concern in Washington is to ensure they are not
withdrawn in Trump's first term, or allowed to expire should he
win a second.
A Trump official did not respond to a request for comment
about how he will approach renewables as president. But one of
Trump's potential picks for Energy Secretary, Oklahoma oil and
gas drilling mogul Harold Hamm, has been a vocal opponent of
subsidies for renewable energy.
Renewable stocks took a beating immediately after Trump's
election but have since mostly recovered.
MONEY AND LOBBYING
During the 2016 cycle, the wind and solar industry's
political action committees contributed more than $225,000 to
Republican candidates for office, compared with $185,000 for
Democrats. The numbers are not large by the standards of
political donations but they mark the first time the industry
has tilted its contributions toward Republicans, according to
In 2012, Democrats got about two-thirds of the industry's
Recipients this year included 34 House Republicans and 19
Senate Republicans. U.S. Senator Dean Heller from Nevada, New
York Representative Tom Reed and North Carolina U.S. Senator
Richard Burr - all vocal proponents of renewables - together
accounted for more than 40 percent of the Solar Energy
Industries Association PAC's total federal campaign donations.
"It is reassuring that we have those relationships already
developed, and we have a really strong business case for the
policies that have been implemented," said Brown of 38 North
Industry executives like SunPower Chief Executive
Tom Werner and First Solar Inc CEO Mark Widmar have
acknowledged the uncertainty around federal support for
renewables. But they have sought to assuage investors, saying
current policies are likely to remain due to the
cost-competitiveness of their technologies and the number of
jobs they represent.
The industry has also tried to get its message out to Trump.
The Solar Energy Industries Association, before the election,
provided Trump staffers with information about the investment
tax credit and its impact on jobs and the economy.
The American Wind Energy Association would not say what
interactions it has had with Trump's team, but twice during the
campaign it published posts on its blog to counter his
statements on the cost of wind energy and its impact on birds.
"The hope is to partner with and educate new appointees (in
Trump's administration) and point out the facts, and then we'll
see," said SunPower's Werner.
Though Democrats have historically been viewed as the
strongest supporters of renewable energy, utility-scale wind
farms and solar installations are found throughout the nation -
including in Republican-leaning states like Arizona, North
Carolina, Oklahoma and North Dakota - and enjoy bipartisan
support among Americans.
A Pew Research Center poll from October found 83 percent of
conservative Republicans favor more solar installations, and 75
percent favor more wind farms. Those figures were 97 percent and
93 percent for liberal Democrats.
The expansion of solar beyond liberal strongholds like
California and the Northeast has been critical to garnering
Republican support over the last few years. The wind industry
has been established in red states for far longer than solar and
has a longer track record of support from Republican lawmakers
in those states.
(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alistair Bell)