A Conservative Path Forward to Address Climate Change?

Last month, conservative North Carolina businessman Jay Faison launched a $175 million campaign to persuade Republicans to take climate change seriously. I didn’t think too much of it, but I recently came across the website for ClearPath, Faison’s nonprofit advocacy org, and it’s a really impressive piece of work — accessible but also deep, drawing on serious, nonpartisan sources like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the International Energy Agency. It wisely focuses more on the promise of clean energy than on the peril of global warming, but it’s rich with information and not particularly ideological.

Faison published a direct appeal to Republicans in Politico last week.  Currently,  Republican parameters are limited to shrinking government — lower taxes, reduce spending, and block or remove regulations. GOP domestic policy is executed by tax credits.  This puts a straightjacket on the actions Faison felt he could discuss, obscuring that the fight is not between big and small government; it’s between fossil fuels and clean energy.

Energy policy should be a powerful tool in the coming Republican resurgence, but for too long we’ve ceded the issue to the Democrats. It’s time to develop a conservative national energy agenda that grows the economy, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, protects jobs over lizards and reduces greenhouse gas emissions that are warming our planet.

As David Roberts notes though, if anything, Republicans have been dominating energy policy with government funding and favors to Halliburton and fossil fuel interests.  While the GOP previously supported cap and trade, nothing has happened there since 2009.  While the Tea Party opposed this earlier, the Tea Party is now supporting a free market for solar energy and energy independence for future generations, in Georgia and Florida.

Meanwhile, emission declines in the US in recent years are the result of government policy in many respects:  the natural gas boom built on technology researched and subsidized by the government, efficiency programs mandated by legislatures or public utility commissions, and renewable energy deployment mandated by state renewable energy standards.  Progress on Faison’s recommended priority areas for conservatives has also occurred through regulation, to date:

  • Prevent and reform regulations that obstruct the promise and development of distributed solar power, especially on rooftops. …
  • Encourage and fund innovation and research and development in both the private and public sectors. …
  • Embrace and promote energy efficiency in their own lives and businesses (personal responsibility)

In the past, Faison advocated for revenue-neutral carbon tax, a bigger impact solution if it still falls short of what is needed, but as Roberts says, “at least it’s a version of the ‘economywide, market-friendly system’ he promised earlier.”

In fact, many studies show that an aggressive shift to clean energy and efficiency would save consumers money. For a general account of why that’s true, see this new report from NextGen Climate. For a more focused bit of number crunching, however, we turn to this new brief from Synapse Energy Economics. It models a clean-energy pathway for the US and produces specific numbers showing both the carbon and financial savings.

Synapse’s Clean Energy Future scenario shows 70 percent of the nation’s electric needs being generated by renewables in 25 years. Renewables added by 2040 include 308 GW of utility‐scale solar panels, 253 GW of on‐shore wind, 197 GW of distributed solar panels, 18 GW of concentrated solar, 14 GW of geothermal, and 4 GW of off‐shore wind. Electricity sales are 25 percent lower than in a Reference—or business‐as‐usual—scenario in 2040, as a result of savings from energy efficiency measures and standards, as well as “demand response” programs that pay participating consumers to curtail their energy use at times of peak demand.

Roberts cites the report and graphs within to show that a much more aggressive shift to clean energy and efficiency is likely to save American consumers money.

This is just the latest study to reach similar conclusions. Here are a few more, cited in the Synapse paper:

For the longer articles, see:

  • http://www.vox.com/2015/7/29/9066009/conservative-climate-solutions
  • http://www.vox.com/2015/7/28/9053283/clean-energy-efficiency-money