The Senate is expected to confirm former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s nomination as secretary of Energy this week. President Trump has attempted to stack his cabinet with friends of polluting industries, and Perry, as a climate-waffler with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, fits that bill. Yet under his tenure as governor, he also supported policies that helped Texas become America’s leading wind energy producer.
It’s not clear how Perry will choose to run the Department of Energy (DOE). If confirmed, will he follow President’s Trump’s lead and seek to tie America back to the dirty energy past? Will he support the Heritage Foundation proposals to eliminate key offices of science and R&D? Or will Perry help ensure that we stay atop the clean energy and efficiency wave that is saving money and creating jobs across the country?
In his “America First” energy plan, President Trump never once mentions clean, renewable energy or energy efficiency. Yet Perry, in written responses to questions from senators voting on his confirmation, said he “believes the future for renewables is bright” and gives an affirmative nod to the role of DOE in supporting states and local governments being able to get what they need through energy efficiency.
Perry has seen firsthand what wind power has done for Texas. Wind capacity in Texas doubled while Perry was governor, thanks in part to his support for a renewable portfolio standard requiring a specific amount of electricity to be generated from renewable resources and investment in transmission infrastructure. Today, the wind industry employs 24,300 people in the state and delivers $50 million in annual land-lease payments to Texas landowners.
Perry knows that the benefits of clean energy are not a partisan issue, and he is far from alone among Republican governors who have sought to advance clean energy in their states. But he also indicated that if confirmed as head of the DOE, he won’t necessarily support policies such as the tax credits and renewable portfolio standards that helped fuel Texas’ clean energy boom. We hope he changes his mind because as groups like Bloomberg New Energy Finance project, wind and solar capacity has the potential to grow by 59 percent and 233 percent from 2015 levels, respectively, by the end of 2021, driven by the tax credit extensions, growing demand from state renewable portfolio standards, and rapidly declining costs.
Energy efficiency is another area where DOE initiatives have demonstrated resounding success, and about which Perry has been evasive. Meanwhile, the Trump administration and Congress are mounting an anti-regulation campaign that also threatens consumers’ benefits from energy efficiency standards.
In spite of the many benefits, efficiency standards face unprecedented threats. President Trump’s January 30, 2017, executive order states that for every new standard or regulation a federal agency puts in place to defend our families, workers, and communities from harm, at least two existing measures must be scrapped, regardless of the benefits they provide. This executive order jeopardizes the successful efficiency standards program by arbitrarily limiting opportunities for significant energy savings.
This is a space where pragmatism should prevail. Consumers shouldn’t have to foot the bill when cost-effective energy savings from appliances and equipment are within reach. Federal efficiency standards make sure that consumers get better products and pay lower energy bills. They are the reason today’s refrigerators use 75 percent less energy than they did a few decades ago, while holding more food and keeping it fresher, longer.
And if confirmed, the first action Perry should take as secretary of Energy is to show support for energy efficiency and finalize five efficiency standards that are currently stalled along with other regulations. Comprehensive multi-year rulemakings for portable air conditioners, walk-in coolers, commercial boilers, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), and air compressors were completed in late December and are now awaiting the last procedural step. Savings from these five standards are at risk if they are stalled due to purely procedural gamesmanship, which could cost consumers up to $11.6 billion on utility bills over 30 years and avoid the equivalent annual emissions of 30 coal-fired power plants.
When questioned on the importance of energy efficiency programs, Perry said he wanted to be sure these standards are “working for Americans.” In reality, they’re not only saving trillions of dollars and protecting domestic manufacturing but also putting millions of Americans to work!
According to the 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment report, 2.2 million American jobs contribute in some manner to energy-efficient products and services. Nearly 1.5 million are in construction—the roofers, electricians, HVAC installers, plumbers, and carpenters who are helping make our homes and businesses more energy efficient. Almost 300,000 are manufacturing jobs, making ENERGY STAR®-certified products and efficient building materials in the United States. In the electric sector, according to the 2017 report, energy-efficiency employers project the highest growth rate over the next 12 months—about 9 percent—too.
While the administration seems to have overlooked this clean energy potential in its wrong-headed energy plan, the future head of the DOE can hardly fail to notice that clean energy and efficiency is where the jobs are. In total, nearly 3 million Americans work in part or in whole in the clean energy economy. Solar jobs alone grew 24 percent in the past year. America can’t afford to stymie this growth, or throw it away on a weak “all-of-the-above” strategy which ignores the benefits of clean energy. Technology has driven down costs so much that a clean energy future costs less than the dirty one proposed by President Trump.
With strong leadership from the DOE, America can continue to be a leader in clean energy and efficiency, and avoid a costly future of dirty energy. Rick Perry should know from his years in Texas that growing clean energy creates jobs and cuts pollution. DOE programs and initiatives have contributed to that success. The next energy secretary cannot afford to ignore the track record, nor hinder the progress, of clean energy and energy efficiency programs that benefit both the environment and the economy.