As President Obama and the lame ducks head toward the fiscal cliff, what do his resounding victory and other election results mean for the clean energy industry?
My first reaction is simply this: clean tech averted total disaster. Some of my colleaegues in the clean-tech world hoped that, in the event of a Mitt Romney win, he would bring some of the 'Massachusetts Mitt' to the office and support clean-energy companies as he did as governor, but I harbored no such hopes. Romney's recycled "drill-baby-drill" campaign rhetoric, his (and Paul Ryan's) constant denigration of the Department of Energy loan program, and his hundreds of millions in contributions from fossil-fuel interests added up to a potentially devastating next four years for clean energy, and for environmental progress in general in the U.S.
In Senate, House, and gubernatorial races, Election Night was overwhelmingly positive for clean tech. The American Wind Energy Association, for example, noted at its fall conference in Phoenix on Nov. 15 that candidates it supported won 88% of their races in the Senate and 86% in the House. Come January, some new, very clean tech-friendly people will be taking office.
Jay Inslee, Governor, Washington State. This may be clean tech's top result. The eight-term Congressman from the Seattle area has been one of the industry's staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill. He even co-authored a book about it, Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy, in 2009. He campaigned for governor partially on this issue, and his victory is a big positive for clean tech in Washington and the nation.
Maggie Hassan, Governor, New Hampshire. Hassan, part of New Hampshire's first-in-history, all-female delegation (two Senators, two House members, and the governor), is a solid clean-energy supporter. As majority leader in the State Senate, she helped spearhead the drive for the state to join the Northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation's first regional carbon-trading system. (I wonder if Gov. Chris Christie might rethink his 2011 withdrawal of New Jersey from RGGI after Superstorm Sandy).
Angus King, Senator, Maine. On clean-energy support, all you really need to know is that King is a former wind power project developer. He co-founded Brunswick, Me.-based Independence Wind, and of course took heat from his Republican opponent for getting one of those evil federal loan guarantees. King should be a good advocate for clean energy in the Senate.
Jared Huffman, U.S. House, California. Okay, confessing to a bit of hometown pride here-Huffman is the newly-elected Congressman from my home district (Marin and part or all of five other counties) in northern California. A former Natural Resources Defense Council attorney, Huffman became a prolific legislator on energy and environment issues in three terms in the state Assembly. Freshman Congressmen can't always get too much accomplished, but for clean-energy supporters, Huffman will be worth keeping an eye on.
On balance, Election Day 2012 was a good one for the clean-energy industry. One caveat: with the exception of the Independent King, all the winning candidates cited above are Democrats, reflecting the unfortunate reality of clean energy as a partisan issue. But there are hopeful signs on this front, too. A new advocacy group to support wind power, the Red State Renewable Alliance, is headed by GOP operative John Feehery, a former spokesman for none other than Tom DeLay. The group's web site notes that 75% of U.S. wind capacity is in Congressional districts served by Republicans.
"Clean renewable energy," say the red-staters, "is a good investment for taxpayers, ratepayers, and for our national security." On Election Day, a majority of America's voters agreed.
Clint Wilder is senior editor at clean-tech research and advisory firm Clean Edge and the coauthor of two books on clean-tech business and innovation, Clean Tech Nation (HarperCollins, 2012) and The Clean Tech Revolution (HarperCollins, 2007). He is an award-winning business journalist who has covered the high-tech and clean-tech industries since 1985 and is a regular blogger for The Huffington Post. Follow Clint on Twitter at @Clint_Wilder.