Partisanship is, of course, not a new phenomenon, and a past where ‘folks would walk across the aisle to get deals done’ is often highly romanticized. In fact, anyone with a passing knowledge of the American Revolution with its Patriots and Loyalists will know that the nation itself sprung out of the seeds of partisanship. However, it does seem that recent debates on issues of importance – healthcare and immigration come to mind - have tracked party lines so closely as to leave little room for compromise.
Until recently, renewable energy was such an issue. Most states with policies that support the adoption of clean tech are typically considered “blue.” It is in these largely Democrat-leaning jurisdictions such as Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and California where policies that support the adoption of renewables, including Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and net metering, have been implemented and made the most impact.
However, in traditionally red states, clean energy has found less support. Most likely caused by an adverse gut reaction to the topic of climate change, many Republican-leaning states – including those in the Southeast – handily rejected policies that would support renewables. That trend shows signs of reversing, however, as some unlikely allies in some unlikely states, including Georgia and Florida, are working to break down partisan barriers.
While the well-tread environmentalist case for renewables centers on climate change, resource management and environmental impact, the conservative case is slightly more novel, at least in the context of renewable energy. The case being presented by those on the right is that renewable energy is a freedom of choice issue, complete with the rhetoric that goes with that approach. As an example, Georgians for Solar Freedom, a group that recently worked to get the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act of 2015 passed and signed by the Governor in that state, has the following talking points on its website:
National Security - Our dependence on foreign oil puts our security at risk. While we support new traditional energy projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and more drilling, we want a true “all of the above” domestic energy plan. By combining the responsible utilization of fossil fuels with increased affordability of solar, we can achieve energy independence and cut off funding to those who may wish to do use harm.
Free Market Competition - The free market is a powerful force. With energy costs from traditional energy sources increasing, we need more competition from new sources to help drive overall prices down. That’s how we deliver affordable energy for businesses that create jobs, as well as families that are feeling the crunch in household budgets. We want to compliment- NOT do away with- fossil based sources of energy.
Technological Innovation - The 20th Century was the “The American Century” due to our ability to innovate. From mass producing the automobile, to developing a weapon to end a World War, and then connecting us all via personal computers and the internet, America led the world for 100 years. Now some of our country’s brightest minds and most forward thinking venture capitalists are driving innovation in solar technology for the 21st Century.
These talking points typically have more appeal for conservatives than those regarding climate change. And, advocates in other states have taken note of them. For example, while Florida is slightly behind Georgia legislatively, coalitions in that state, which include tea party groups and environmentalists, are showing that clean-energy advocates can make advances in even the most difficult of political environments with the right message. The trend looks set to continue in other states as groups like the Green Tea Party are making headway in the Carolinas and Louisiana in the South, and in Midwestern states including Minnesota, Michigan and Kansas.
It seems that cross-party consensus on broader policy challenges like Obamacare and immigration policy will be hard to reach any time soon. Happily, those issues are outside the purview of this page. However, the budding coalition between two groups at ends of the political spectrum that are so often at odds with each other mean that national consensus on renewable energy is closer than ever.