Solar flare

Trump takes aim at Nevada’s newest industry

At an Environmental Protection Agency auditorium in D.C., Donald Trump signed an executive order promoting coal.

At an Environmental Protection Agency auditorium in D.C., Donald Trump signed an executive order promoting coal.


In the 1970s, oil executives had a mantra—“Solar power isn’t practical.”

It was so commonly used that Ralph Nader eventually responded, “Solar power will never be practical until the oil companies get a franchise on the sun.”

Forty years of technological advances have a way of changing things. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy, now headed by former oil state governor Rick Perry, reported that there are more workers in the solar generation field than in oil, gas and coal combined.

Only Massachusetts and California have more of those solar jobs than Nevada, which last year hosted 8,764 workers in the solar field—more than other sunny settings like Florida, Texas and Arizona. Nevada is also promoting its geothermal resources, which far outpace other states.

Donald Trump seems determined to do something about that kind of success.

In his 2015 book Crippled America, Trump called renewable energy “really just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves.”

When he was just a real estate figure and television personality, that kind of snide was no particular source of concern, but when he is in a position to put it into federal policy, it represents a threat to Nevada, which is heavily invested in renewables.

Nevada’s state government has set benchmarks to be met and has provided incentives. Reno and Las Vegas have pitched in to make their contribution to meeting the goals in the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, and the City of Las Vegas claims to be the largest city whose municipal facilities are entirely powered by renewables.

“We can brag that the city, this city of Las Vegas, is one of the few cities in the entire world that can boast using all of its power from a green source,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in December.

The state has been trying to cultivate an image as a jurisdiction where alternative energy firms are welcome—at least until the Nevada Public Utilities Commission undercut that image by torpedoing net metering.

Trump is no stranger to Nevada, and while some properties like Mandalay Bay brag about their use of renewable energy, Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas does not. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe he would not be aware of the state’s commitment to alternative energy.

If he was aware of the state’s efforts to build a new industry—and it’s hard to believe the Las Vegas hotel owner would not be—that does not necessarily mean he would change his mind about an issue that he used on the campaign trail and continues to use to rouse friendly audiences. “We will unleash the full power of American energy, ending job-killing restrictions on shale oil, natural gas and clean, beautiful coal,” he recently told a Republican gathering in Philadelphia.

As a result, Nevada’s renewable energy efforts are expected to take some hard hits.

Trump is expected to ask Congress to roll back the 30 percent investment tax credit for solar, with an eye toward eventually zeroing it out. This was the product of a rare bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill, and Jon Wellinghoff of Nevada—former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, now chief policy officer for Solar City—says, “I’m hoping against hope that the deal will hold. … It was a pretty good deal.”

Trump wants the State Solar Program, which provides $28 million to the states for energy efficiency, to be zeroed out.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a civilian program created to fund energy research—such as energy storage and electrical grids—that business does not, is slated to be eliminated. Trump’s “America First” plan for the budget said “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”

Trump is asking Congress to cut the budgets of the Department of Energy by six percent and the Environmental Protection Agency by 31.

The Center for American Progress reports that in addition to seeking revival of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, “the Trump budget also attacks weatherization and state energy planning programs at the Department of Energy, eliminating $1.1 million directed to Nevada alone. These programs increase residential energy efficiency for low-income families, who spend more than 16 percent of their income on energy costs, and help them save $283 per year on average on their utility bills. The state energy program planning funds help governors prepare for natural disasters and electricity or fuel disruptions, increase efficiency for consumers, and deploy clean and alternative energy, including at schools and other public buildings.”

If Trump’s plan were to work and coal gained while solar lost, Nevada would lose in utility costs, in jobs and in tax revenue.

Trump’s energy plan reads, in part, “Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.”

One of President Obama’s final actions was to approve a regulation protecting stream-flows from coal mining pollutants. Trump has taken action to repeal that regulation, calling it duplicative.

In 2013, Wellinghoff told a reporter, “Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything. … It could double every two years.” This week he said, “States are in the lead, and I don’t think Trump can change the market. Renewables are clearly the least expensive things that anyone can do.”

According to a Department of Energy report in January, solar generation from 2006 to 2016 increased by 5,411 percent. Coal generation declined by 53 percent.

While Trump likes to portray coal’s decline as being caused by regulation, the market has boosted solar while reducing coal’s prospects, and some financial publications and sites have sounded puzzled by Trump—supposedly a businessperson—trying to reverse the laws of economics.

“We already know how to make the transition Trump is resisting,” Market Watch reported in March. “We know [renewables are] cheap and getting cheaper, we know it is already creating more jobs than it is displacing, and we know that about 62 percent of new electricity-making capacity getting built in the U.S. now uses renewable energy like sun and wind. That happened mostly because renewable-energy and gas-drilling technology improved, and markets spoke.”

Trump might also want to re-think repealing the Affordable Care Act if he goes ahead with his plans for coal. In the unlikely event he is successful and coal stages a comeback, so would its health effects. “Coal combustion releases nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (PM), mercury, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health,” according to Source Watch. Coal can cause reduction in life expectancy and increased respiratory hospital admissions, congestive heart failure, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, loss of IQ, nervous system damage, degradation and soiling of buildings that can effect human health, and, of course, black lung in miners.