Tomorrow’s Energy Leaders Need Leadership from Trump Today: An Open Letter from US Graduate Students

Dear President-Elect Trump:

We, the leaders of energy-focused student organizations representing over 5,000 graduate and undergraduate students from across the country, have joined together to share our thoughts on how best to address the energy policy choices that your administration will face in the early days of your presidency. We are neither Democrat nor Republican, but are concerned with American prosperity, job creation, and global leadership in the energy industry.

As future business, government, and civil society leaders of America, we are closely following national and international developments in the energy industry and their relative impacts on the U.S. economy. We share your interest in growing the economy, bringing back American manufacturing jobs, and making American infrastructure second to none. We wish to offer our suggestions for how your administration can put America’s energy resources to work in order to realize these goals.

To begin, we would like to share some figures that highlight the energy opportunity within America’s grasp today. The clean energy industry, representing energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy storage, and various other clean technologies, currently employs over 2.5 million people, 1.7% of the American workforce[1]. The solar industry alone provided American workers with more than 200,000 well-paying jobs in 2015, growing 20% over 2014 and accounting for 1.2% of all new U.S. jobs created in 2015[2]. The growth in employment was driven in part by increasing global investment in clean energy to over $329 billion last year, twice the investment in conventional power generation [3]. This level of private sector investment is even more remarkable considering that falling renewable energy costs make it cheaper to install — solar power now costs 70% less than what it did ten years ago[4]. Increased investment in renewable energy has doubled the respective market shares of wind and solar power generation four and seven times over the last 15 years [5]. Renewable energy is cost competitive, attractive to global investors, and an economic boon for Americans seeking employment throughout the country.

Clean energy is an economic winner for the U.S. and we must harness its ability to create jobs, improve American infrastructure, and ensure that our country remains a global economic leader. As clean energy continues to grow, U.S. companies will be called upon to increase manufacturing capacity, train hundreds of thousands of American workers, and bring about a modern, secure electric grid. Embracing a clean energy future would boost manufacturing and construction across the U.S. with 460,000 additional construction jobs by 2030 and 800,000 by 2050[6]. If current and future leaders of the energy industry like us are to undertake such a massive infrastructure overhaul, and create the much sought after jobs that accompany it, we will need the leadership of your administration. Below are some suggestions for how best to showcase that leadership:

  1. Tailor tax policy and incentives to support public benefits. A recent memo from your DOE transition team outlined several energy policy stances your administration may take. One of the key objectives listed is reducing energy subsidies. However, market support systems like subsidies are deeply embedded in energy markets, and eliminating these programs would doubtless have a negative impact on US energy prices and consequently our economy. It would also mean heavy job losses — particularly in the fossil fuel industries that currently receive over $20 billion in Federal and State subsidies and have historically received the lion’s share of support[8]. Rather than immediately eliminating energy subsidies across the board, we suggest that your administration direct nonpartisan economists at the DOE, the network of National Labs, the National Academies and other institutions to determine the appropriate market design to provide public benefits that support innovation and ensure competitive American energy markets.
  2. Ensure that your energy secretary continues funding the Department of Energy’s research, development, and commercialization support mechanisms. The DOE supports innovation across the energy sector, from conventional to nuclear to renewable. In fact, according to the Congressional Research Service, over the last decade the majority of DOE’s R&D funding has gone to nuclear and fossil energy[7]. By this measure, DOE R&D funding is clearly aligned with your “all of the above” energy strategy. These basic investments in innovation are what keeps American technology at the forefront of the global economy, and what will provide the economic foundation for rapid growth in American energy. The DOE supports cost-effective development of next generation technologies for all fuel types and helps bring those technologies to market — allowing entrepreneurs and businesses to put them to work powering our economy. These are critical programs in next generation energy technologies and must continue to be supported.
  3. Support new energy technologies’ access to capital by promoting innovative financial mechanisms. Energy infrastructure is capital-intensive and all new technologies carry inherent risk. Yet new energy technologies like battery storage and smart grids are necessary to build an advanced energy grid and create the top tier American infrastructure you’ve proposed. We urge you to support policies that would help de-risk these investments, maintain the United States’ technological competitive advantage, and bring the best, most efficient and advanced technologies to power the American economy. As a starting point, draw on the innovative financial models developed by U.S. green banks. These institutions can provide your administration with a model for creating economic growth through visionary, effective financial innovation[9].

Since the days of Jefferson, American policy makers have issued land grants, tax subsidies, and R&D investment to support energy innovation and propel the American economy[10]. In the face of ever increasing global competition, this policy must continue as emerging energy technologies are needed now more than ever to ensure continued American prosperity.

Clean energy is wildly popular across the political spectrum, but we need your leadership to work with Congress to seize this tremendous economic opportunity. Other countries are beginning to catch or surpass our progress in the energy industry — the largest share of 2015’s record-breaking renewables investment went to China (up 17% to $102.9 billion)[11]. We want to retake that capital by building a clean energy future that leads the world and creates well-paying jobs for millions of Americans, and we hope to count on your support.

Sincerely,

Yale School of Management Energy Club

Yale School of Forestry Energy Student Interest Group

Harvard Business School Energy and Environment Club

UC Berkeley Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative

Cornell Energy Club

UCLA Anderson School of Management Energy Mangement Group

Nicholas School of the Environment Energy Club, Duke University

University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business Cleantech Group

UNC Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee

MIT Sloan Energy Club

MIT Energy Club

Fordham Gabelli School of Business Net Impact Chapter

Columbia School of International and Public Affairs Energy Association

Stanford Energy Club

If you would like to sign this open letter or speak with the authors please make use of this contact form.

CITED FIGURES:

[1] https://www.e2.org/clean-jobs-america/

[2] National Solar Jobs Census 2015, The Solar Foundation, available at: http://www.tsfcensus.org.

[3] https://about.bnef.com/press-releases/clean-energy-defies-fossil-fuel-price-crash-to-attract-record-329bn-global-investment-in-2015/

[4] http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-industry-data

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-06/wind-and-solar-are-crushing-fossil-fuels

[6] “From Risk to Return: Investing in a Clean Energy Economy,” Risky Business: https://riskybusiness.org/site/assets/uploads/sites/5/2016/10/RBP-FromRiskToReturn-WEB.pdf

[7] https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22858.pdf

[8] http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2015/11/Empty-promises_main-report.2015.pdf

[9] “Growing Clean Energy Markets with Green Bank Financing” Coalition for Green Capital: http://coalitionforgreencapital.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/CGC-Green-Bank-White-Paper.pdf

[10] http://www.dblpartners.vc/resource/what-would-jefferson-do/

[11] http://fs-unep-centre.org/publications/global-trends-renewable-energy-investment-2016