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Cleantech industry ponders Trump presidency

With climate policies in the crosshairs, companies pin hopes on job creation efforts

by Melody M. Bomgardner
November 21, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 46

This image shows trainees in hard hats installing rooftop solar panels in San Diego.
Credit: Everyday Energy
Clean technologies such as solar power are good job generators, backers say.

U.S. companies that make renewable chemicals, fuels, and energy are bracing for policy changes under the incoming Trump administration. Although the president-elect is skeptical about climate change, trade groups say they believe the Republican leadership will support investment in cleantech R&D and manufacturing to create jobs and boost energy security.

“Even if you discount climate change initiatives, there is strong support for U.S.-based energy efficiency and domestic energy production,” says Paul Winters, spokesman for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a trade group that represents many producers of biobased chemicals. “Innovation and support for science are still popular.”

One area that biofuel and solar firms are watching closely is the fate of renewable investment and production tax credits. Even if the credits stay in place, changes to corporate tax rates could impact their effectiveness, according to BIO and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Also being watched are grants and loan guarantees from the U.S. departments of energy and agriculture—often worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars—to locate big plants in the U.S. Those programs may be scaled back or broadened to include nonrenewable industries.

The future for sustainable transportation is up in the air, according to Tammy Klein of the consulting firm Future Fuel Strategies. “Trump has been supportive of biofuels, and I expect the Renewable Fuels Standard program will largely stay intact,” she says. The RFS mandates that refiners blend biofuels made from sugars, oils, and biomass into gasoline and diesel fuel.

But if Republicans strip EPA’s ability to regulate CO2 emissions, auto fuel economy rules may be loosened, Klein warns, to the detriment of investment in new electric vehicle technology.

States may take up the mantle of supporting cleantech manufacturing. Already, makers of advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol can market their fuels in California and Oregon, which have low-carbon fuel mandates. And both Iowa and Minnesota offer a per-lb tax credit for production of biobased chemicals.



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