What is Trump going to do with solar?

 

In the wake of last week’s earth-shattering election, solar advocates are trying to discern what a Donald Trump administration will mean for the industry — and the number of conflicting opinions suggest no one really knows.

Roth Capital Partners, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based investment firm heavily involved in the cleantech industry released its projections on the future — and they are not good.

“Although the Trump team has indicated to our sources that it has no plans to roll back the ITC extension, our checks suggest the ITC could very well be on the chopping block at some point,” Roth wrote in the “Cleantech & Industrial Growth” of its ROTH Cleantech Banking Weekly e-newsletter.  “The [Clean Power Plan] is effectively dead. All in, tens of gigawatts of solar demand are at risk.”

Roth also suggested that the solar industry is unlikely to have a significant role in energy strategy going forward, considering  (as pv magazine reported last week) that Trump’s advisors are largely utility apologists and fossil-fuel shills.

MJ Shiao, GTM Research’s director of solar research, told pv magazine that no one knows what Trump’s solar policy will be and that whatever the outcome, it doesn’t affect GTM’s immediate outlook on the industry.

“None of this fundamentally changes GTM’s view on the U.S. market,” Shiao said. “Most of the near-term drivers will continue to be rooted in state-level policies, net metering reform and the market conditions overall, including conditions like national installer weakness and rapidly declining module/system prices, among others.”

Shiao highlighted the tariffs on Chinese modules and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as issues to watch.

Though he is cautiously optimistic that any new tariffs on Chinese solar equipment (Trump has promised tariffs on imported Chinese goods) wouldn’t affect system prices, a rejection of the TPP could hinder removing existing tariffs.

Californians in particular are worried about the long-term effects Trump’s policies could have on its expansive cleantech industries. Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at the UC Berkeley School of Law, told The Mercury News that the federal government could devastate California industries by limiting or eliminating tax credits that have helped build the state’s cleantech boom.

“California is the fifth largest economy in the world,” Elkind told the paper. “That’s quite a powerful entity to be committed to these climate goals. I don’t think all is lost, but this election is a big setback for climate policy.”

While Roth suggests Trump could eliminate the tax credits to fill the gap created if his goal of cutting corporate tax rates to 15 percent is enacted, alleged campaign insiders say it’s not something at the top of the president-elect’s agenda.

As comforting as such assurances may be to some, the fact that Trump may not get around to eliminating subsidies immediately seems cold comfort for a solar industry concerned after last week’s election results.

The fact that Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress means fewer checks on any anti-solar legislation Trump wants enacted, as well as providing fertile ground from which anti-solar legislation can easily sprout.

In addition, a Trump appointment to the Supreme Court — likely to happen shortly after he takes office — will almost assuredly be a conservative who may take a dim view on environmental policy, which could mean pro-environmental lawsuits would be dead on arrival. Add to that Trump’s mystifying ignorance on how solar works and where the industry actually is in the space-time continuum, and solar advocates are justified in their concerns.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reiterated its belief that no matter who is in the White House, solar will prevail.

“We will be working with our friends on both sides of the aisle to make sure that this extension stays in place,” said Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs for SEIA, told pv magazine last week.

“We have been in contact before the election with the Trump campaign and the Trump transition team to make sure that they are aware of the important benefits that solar has given to the economy in terms of jobs created, megawatts installed and billions of dollars invested,” he added.

Fortunately, state policies have always been the biggest drivers of solar industry expansion, and increasingly solar is being procured on its economic merits alone, including in states that do not have renewable energy mandates. In fact, state ballot issues Florida, Nevada and Washington last week highlighted state-level policy’s continued importance.