Following His State of the Union Speech, President Trump Must Lead on Clean Energy Innovation
By Charles Hernick,
In his first State of the Union address, President Trump will talk about his $1 trillion plan for rebuilding our nation’s rundown infrastructure and how we can rebuild it in a relatively short amount of time. On Sunday Fox News published an opinion piece I authored reminding President Trump of his commitment to investing in energy infrastructure on the campaign trail, and that we must make clean energy infrastructure a significant part of that effort.
A main point of the piece is that the President should maximize public-private partnerships to draw on the strength of our private sector and make the most of each taxpayer dollar.
This applies beyond infrastructure as many large companies simply don’t have enough capital to develop technologies on their own, including some innovative clean energy projects. The tax reform bill passed in late last year will free up some funds for private-sector investment. The lower corporate tax rate helps each business’ bottom line, and favorable terms for repatriating profits from abroad makes it easier to invest money in research and development. Furthermore, by immediately writing off the full cost of new equipment, businesses can make additional investments sooner, improve operations, and invest in employees and new technologies. The reforms could help re-position the United States as an exporter of the next generation of clean energy technologies.
However, the federal government needs to do its part, too. The private sector has the ideas and the scientific talent needed, but the assistance of the federal government is often key to getting good ideas off the ground by financing expensive infrastructure and capital costs through programs like Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), an agency that promotes and funds research and development of advanced energy technologies, and the Loan Programs Office (LPO), which issues loan guarantees for innovative energy projects.
It is critical that the U.S. increase funding to accelerate the development of advanced clean energy innovations. The 20th Century saw an America that led on energy by building out impressive infrastructure and developing traditional energy resources like and oil and gas, which will remain part of the formula. But to lead in the 21st Century, we must also be sure to keep up with countries like China in developing a myriad of new energy technologies, and we must remember that we are competing with other nations like Russia for the investment and job creation in advanced clean energy technologies.
The last piece of this puzzle is boosting funding for research taking place right now in our government laboratories, universities, and private facilities. Currently, the U.S. places less emphasis on energy research than any other nation, with energy’s share of the total U.S. research budget ranking 22nd globally for 2015 and ranking just 12th in research and development spending as a percentage of GDP.
There’s a lot of work to do, and it begins with revitalizing the electric grid and simultaneously developing clean energy technologies. It will take a commitment from the White House, legislators from both sides of the aisle, and leaders in the private sector. Together, we can make clean energy America’s legacy for decades to come. History will be on President Trump’s side if he steps up to the lead.