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The 2016 Presidential Candidates on Solar Power

February 15, 2016

Now that the 2016 presidential race is starting to heat up, we thought it was a good idea to look at what the candidates in the race have said about solar, and what effects those positions might have on the country when one of them becomes the next POTUS. Whether you’re a true believer or you think all politicians are equally corrupt, you’ve gotta admit that solar has come a long way in this country largely because of good policies like state rebates, net metering, and the federal 30% Investment Tax Credit.

Below, we discuss each candidate’s positions (or lack thereof), including what they’ve said in the past and what they’re saying now. It may come as no surprise that, in general, Democrats portray their advocacy of solar and other renewables as a way to combat climate change, and they tend to favor tax credits and other incentives that make solar more affordable to ordinary Americans, as well as regulations that call for massive expansions of renewable generation around the country.

Many Republicans ignore solar and renewables completely, and also deny that climate change is happening or that humans have anything to do with it. If they mention energy policy at all, they tend to favor removing regulations and oversight they see as barriers to energy expansion, also calling for new oil and gas exploration and immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline as ways to bring down energy costs for everyone.

Without further ado, let’s get to it:

The Democrats


Hillary Clinton

Secretary Clinton has been very vocal about her support for solar and renewables, claiming that under her administration, renewable energy will provide 33% of the nation’s energy by 2027. Her website lists her advocacy for solar and other renewables under the the issue of climate change, with a goal to “generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America.”

Her clean energy vision statement (pdf) specifically calls for 140 gigawatts of new solar electricity generation by 2020, the end of her first term, which she claims is double what would happen with current policies in place. Here’s how that looks:

Interestingly, since Clinton’s plan was published, one significant step toward her goal has been achieved. We’re speaking of the extension of the federal government’s 30% solar investment tax credit, otherwise know as “the ITC.” Congress included the ITC extension in the spending bill that was passed in December of 2015, and it sets the country on a path to achieve much of the solar growth Clinton calls for. The lines on the graph above that refer to “current policy” do not include the ITC extension.

Also part of her vision statement are calls for increased “solar access” for low-income households, and a “Clean Energy Challenge,” which would include a Solar X-Prize with awards for communities that “cut red tape that slows rooftop solar installation times and increases costs for businesses and consumers.”

Clinton’s past support for solar

Secretary Clinton spent 8 years as a Senator from New York, during which she introduced the Strategic Energy Fund Act and co-sponsored and supported past legislation to extend renewable tax credits including the ITC. Her vision statement also points out that “she championed the Clean Power Act to reduce harmful industrial pollutants and was part of a bipartisan coalition to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling.”

Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders has also called for a strong national plan to combat climate change and increase the country’s use of renewable energy, promising to “work toward a 100 percent clean energy system,” although he’s a bit less specific in his plans for the near future. His website has an extensive section on the issue of climate change and the need for expansion of renewable energy, calling for “billions of dollars of investments in renewable energy, like solar.”

Bernie’s goals include plans to decrease carbon pollution emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, largely by putting a tax on carbon emissions to make polluting more expensive. He touts the 80 percent reduction in the cost of solar panels that has occurred since 2008, pointing out that federal tax credits and federally-funded research and development have provided much of the gains.

Interestingly, he is the only candidate who mentions the importance of solar net metering, which is a policy that ensures solar owners get full credit for the electricity their systems produce. His website’s climate change section contains the following paragraph:

“Bernie supports solar net metering, which means that people who invest in solar should be able to offset the cost – or in some cases even make money – on their electric utility bill. He recognizes that as we lower the cost of solar energy and increase our use of solar, we can create hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing and installation careers in this country.”

Sanders’s past support for solar

Senator Sanders has a long history of supporting clean energy, during both his time as the Representative from Vermont and his recent term in the Senate, introducing numerous bills that have had profound effects on the nation’s solar landscape. His most notable contribution was authoring and co-sponsoring the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant initiative in the stimulus bill, which provided some of the funds necessary for 9,500 solar systems around the country.

He has also focused on helping low-income and minority residents conserve energy and go solar, introducing the Residential Energy Savings Act of 2013 and the Low-Income Solar Act, and has advocated for an increase in the pace of solar adoption, introducing the Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act, which would provide comprehensive benefits to workers in the clean energy sector.

The Republicans


Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush served two terms as the Governor of Florida, the 25th best state for solar in our 2016 Solar Power Rankings report. “The Sunshine State,” as Florida is known, greatly lags behind less sunny states in solar power per capita, which can be mostly attributed to the fact that Florida has no Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a law that mandates a certain amount of electricity generation from renewable sources. 29 other states and the District of Columbia have RPS laws.

As a presidential candidate, Bush is one of the few Republicans with an energy plan as part of his platform. The first priorities in his State Energy Jobs Plan are to “Lift Restrictions on Exports of Oil and Natural Gas” (which was done as part of the spending bill passed in December of 2015), and “Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.” He calls for a “level playing field” for all energy sources, and wants to “remove burdensome government regulations, subsidies and other barriers that get in the way of adopting and exploiting such innovations.”

Recently, Governor Bush has agreed, along with Senator Marco Rubio, to meet with Florida mayors who are calling for action on climate change.

John Kasich

Governor Kasich has served nine terms as a Representative and one-and-a-half terms as the governor of Ohio, the 27th best state in the nation, according to our 2016 State Solar Power Rankings report. Notably, he presided over the nation’s first freeze of a state RPS, because Ohio utilities weren’t doing a good enough job meeting the goals for renewable energy.

Notably, he now appears to be unwilling to allow an indefinite freeze of Ohio’s RPS, going against the Republican-led Ohio General Assembly and calling for “a bill that supports a diverse mix of reliable, low-cost energy sources while preserving the gains we have made in the state’s economy.”

Unfortunately, his presidential campaign hasn’t focused on renewable energy at all, and his official website’s issues section contains no mention of climate change, renewable energy, or solar power. Still, given that Chris Christie’s campaign is now “suspended” for the foreseeable future, Governor Kasich may be the only Republican who is even close to being an advocate for renewable energy.

Kasich’s past support for solar

Back in 2012, Kasich said he believed climate change was “a problem,” but that he couldn’t measure it and didn’t want to overreact to it. More recently, he’s said he’s not sure “of all the causes and all the science.” He believes the states should control the extent to which they regulate carbon emissions and subsidize energy development.

Ted Cruz

Senator Cruz argues there has been no significant warming of the atmosphere over the last 18 years. His energy plan includes the elimination of all energy subsidies.

His website’s “Issues” section contains no mention of solar power or renewable energy.

Marco Rubio

Senator Rubio is one of the few Republicans who have an energy platform. His proposal includes plans to “Rewrite the Obama Administration’s Flawed Five-Year Offshore Drilling Plan” and “Immediately Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.” Rubio’s website says his plan will promote competition and expand access to oil, gas, and coal development as well as wind, solar, nuclear, and hydropower energy.

His more detailed energy plan mentions solar only a couple of times, and contains the claim that red tape, permitting delays, and endless reviews are what is hindering clean energy expansion.

Rubio’s past support for solar

In 2007, when Rubio was the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, he voiced support for carbon emissions caps. He told his colleagues:

“Global warming, dependence on foreign sources of fuel, and capitalism have come together to create opportunities for us that were unimaginable just a few short years ago,” he said. “Today, Florida has the opportunity to pursue bold energy policies, not just because they’re good for our environment, but because people can actually make money doing it. This nation and ultimately the world is headed toward emission caps and energy diversification.”

As a U.S. Senator, in his 2013 response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Rubio said “Of course solar and wind energy should be a part of our energy portfolio. But God also blessed America with abundant coal, oil and natural gas. Instead of wasting more taxpayer money on so-called ‘clean energy’ companies like Solyndra, let’s open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration.”

These days, he’s a little more cagey about renewable energy, saying “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it… (and) I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy.”

Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a real estate businessman and reality television star with no experience in government. His website’s “Positions” page doesn’t have a section with his stance on climate change, renewable energy, or solar.

In 2012, Mr. Trump said of solar: “The technology isn’t there yet. Solar has a 32-year payback.” (Which was untrue for the entire United States, even back in 2012)

More recently, he has tweeted his support for the Keystone XL pipeline and his distaste for wind energy:

That’s all, folks! Please do your best to stay up to date on the positions of our presidential candidates. The outlook for solar will likely change dramatically based on the candidate who ends up in the White House next year.

Last modified: February 15, 2016

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Oliver
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Oliver

You forgot to mention that Trump tweeted about climate change being something that the chinese invented: https://mobile.twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/265895292191248385?lang=en

Mike Jones
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Mike Jones

Turned on the 7.5kW solar system on my roof here in Colorado with net metering on July1. Paid only $13/month until the middle of Oct. Highest electric since has been $107. 2980sf 1984 all electric home on resistance radiant heat. Nice! Looking forward to a long saving story. $8500+ tax rebate in 2016 going to the principal on the solar plant, reducing my per kWh rate. Very nice!

Dinkar Koppikar
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Dinkar Koppikar

Demoratic stand (Whether Clinton or Sanders) is way superior to Republican, who perfunctorily refer to solar energy in their advocacy of energy independence (with overwhelming reliance on non-renewable sources). If vast majority of homeowners were to produce modest surplus each which utility can then distribute to net energy consumers (mainly industries, high rise building etc), the economics of energy production and consumption will be necessarily more democratic and equitable. Moreover if authorities (federal to local) were to cover roads, railway tracks, canals etc. with solar panels, the entire transportation system could be made independent of non-renewal energy sources. Solarenergy technologies… Read more »

Wendy
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Wendy

I’m interested in solar enery for my home, but no one in the area installs it,according to my web searches

Dinkar Koppikar
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Dinkar Koppikar

I installed solar panels on my home in February 2010 and my electric bill has been zero since then. I urge everyone who comes across to install solar panels on their homes, but somehow people seem deeply prejudiced against solar power. People don’t believe me that I get 10% return on my investment in the form of zero electric utility bill and have some surplus left under net metering system. Consider immense individual and public advantages if rooftop solar panel were universal. To name just one: no terrorist threat to huge power stations,

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