By Dan Miner  |  Buffalo Business First  |  1/6/17

Will Trump presidency affect renewableenergy industry?

Incoming President Donald Trump questions the cause and extent of global warming. He has also discussed plans to boost U.S. fossil fuel industries such as natural gas and coal.

Those are important platforms for the top U.S. politician, with widespread ramifications for federal agencies and policies.

But it isn’t likely to stop growth of the renewable-energy industry, both in terms of market share and technology, experts say.

Simply put, the cost of wind and solar has become too competitive to push aside with the wave of any one person’s hand.

That’s especially true in progressive states such as New York, which has adopted policies aimed at producing 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030, among other ambitious goals.

“Technology is improving, economies of scale are improving,” said David Flynn, a Buffalo-based attorney at Phillips Lytle LLP whose focus areas include energy and the environment. “The marketplace for wind and solar has become robust to the point that it drives manufacturers to drive costs down and move to larger volumes of product.”

The issue is relevant in Buffalo, where some estimates have predicted a full 3-degree Fahrenheit increase in average daily temperatures by 2050, owing to greenhouse gas emissions.

The city also is home to a robust renewable-energy industry, including independently owned solar installers, the state-owned SolarCity factory in South Buffalo and high-tech companies such as Sentient Science. Sentient is connected to the University at Buffalo and uses a sensor-software package to monitor the performance of wind turbines.

Nobody is quite clear which parts of Trump’s campaign platform will become active policies related to energy and the environment.

But he made moves with deep implications, including the appointment of Myron Ebell as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ebell disputes the basic assumption that greenhouse gas emissions are causing the earth’s atmosphere to warm.

Federal laws and policies under the discretion of the EPA or U.S. Department of Energy do have an impact on the renewable-energy industry, but there is one thing that stands above the rest.

Federal tax credits aimed separately at the wind and solar industries play a big role in financing those projects and, if they go away, could make them considerably more expensive.

That might not be a deal-killer in a green-friendly policy environment such as New York state but could devastate the growth of wind and solar in states with less-holistic approaches to energy.

“These tax credits certainly influence the energy portfolio of the United States,” said John Hall, assistant professor at UB who does research on the efficiency and cost of wind energy. “Fortunately, renewable energy is making more and more economic sense. You have to install the equipment but you don’t have to mine for air.”