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Utility Dive: Election 2020: States accelerated renewables under Trump. Could a Biden win slow that?

Posted by Emma Penrod on Oct 29, 2020

Utility Dive reported on impacts of a Biden presidency on the renewable energy sector on the state level, quoting AEE's JR Tolbert. Read excerpts below and the full piece here.

The bipartisan push in favor of more renewable energy deployment at the state level could evaporate under a Biden administration that may lean toward federal mandates, experts say. In 2018, Colorado was among a handful of states where energy and climate policy headlined state elections and led to Democrats seizing control of the state house, senate and governor's office. This year will be different.

It's not that anyone in Colorado has lost interest in these topics — discussions about net metering and fuel switching are ongoing, according to Mike Kruger, president and CEO of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association. But at the local level, he said, it's no longer a topic of contention thanks to bipartisan agreement about the need for a transition to clean energy...

Although the pandemic has helped to dampen what was expected to be a heated debate about climate policy this fall, experts say that's far from the only reason why political conversations about energy are more subdued this year. Over the past few years, moderate and right-leaning state officials have joined their Democratic counterparts in advancing their own renewable energy initiatives, lessening concern about whether they will come to fruition.

Some who watch state-level energy policy say what happens at the federal level this year could disrupt the current delicate balance. In previous years, states assumed an active role in countering federal policies with which they disagree, divided largely along partisan lines. A Biden presidency, several analysts predict, could actually slow U.S. adoption of renewable energy if it triggers opposition among conservative-led states...

“Investment in clean energy results in economic gains for your state — more people employed, more taxes coming in,” said J.R. Tolbert, managing director of Advanced Energy Economy. “All of those are positive things you don't have to be a blue state governor to recognize. More and more we see conservative voters saying they want their politicians to support clean energy...”

On the other hand, the impact of COVID-19 on state budgets means states may readily accept a federal clean energy package that included funding for state initiatives, according to Tolbert.

“The states that we work in, and states all over the country, are hemorrhaging cash and in dire financial situations, because the current president and senate will not provide local relief,” he said. “Inclusion of clean energy in a stimulus is not executive overreach. Utilizing the Clean Air Act … to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, that's something folks tend to think was overreach. There could be push back on that."

Regardless of what happens on the national stage, the impact of a new federal administration is unlikely to be felt at the state level this year, Tolbert said. This is primarily because of the limited number of gubernatorial elections taking place this year — only 11 states will vote for governor this fall.

“And, frankly, as we look at the subset of states that are on the ballot this year...there won't be a lot of change,” Tolbert said. “Montana is considered the most competitive of all the gubernatorial races.”

The more significant state-level decisions this year, Tolbert said, may actually be legislative races in states like North Carolina where Democratic governors are frequently blocked by the state's Republican-controlled senate or house of representatives. Sixteen states where the house, senate and governor's office are controlled by a single party may lose that status this year, while seven states could potentially attain trifectas in the coming elections...

Read the entire Utility Dive piece here.

Topics: AEE In The News