The Renewable Energy Components of the Democratic and Republican Platforms

By Erin Voegele | September 07, 2012


With both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention behind us, our nation is embarking on the official 2012 presidential election season. While both Obama and Romney have made reference to their policy positions, the official policy platforms of each party have now been revealed.

While I encourage you to take a serious look at each platform in its entirety, I’m going to do my best to summarize the energy components contained within each.

Since the republican convention place last week, let’s tackle the republican platform first.

The Republican Party titled a section of its platform “Domestic Energy Independence: An ‘All of the Above’ Energy Policy. Specifically, the republicans say they will not pick winners and losers in the energy marketplace, but will let the free market and public preference determine industry outcomes. The platform specifically addresses coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy. Regarding renewable energy, the platform states, “We encourage the cost effective development of renewable energy, but the taxpayers should not serve as venture capitalists for risky endeavors. It is important to create a pathway toward a market-based approach for renewable energy sources and to aggressively develop alternative sources for electricity generation such as wind, hydro, solar, biomass, geothermal, and tidal energy. Partnerships between traditional energy industries and emerging renewable industries can be a central component in meeting the nation’s long-term needs. Alternative forms of energy are part of our action agenda to power the homes and workplaces of the nation.”

The platform also addresses Solyndra, saying that the current administration “has wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars by subsidizing favored companies like Solyndra, which generated bankruptcies rather than kilowatts.” Several biomass projects have received similar loan guarantees, including Coskata, Fremont Community Digester, INEOS New Planet BioEnergy, Sapphire Energy, Enerkem, ZeaChem, Fiberight and Fulcrum.

I think the role of loan guarantees is lost on many of our elected officials and members of the public. Loan guarantees, by definition, are supposed to help support emerging technologies that are too risky for traditional lenders to take on. Emerging technology is a high risk, high reward type of environment. Some projects will—and do—fail. That is not only expected, but budgeted for. The American people didn’t lose billions of taxpayer dollars on Solyndra. In fact, the agencies that offer loan guarantee programs have often experienced a lower than expected—and lower than budgeted for—failure rate for projects. One could argue that this, in fact, indicates that we haven’t taken on enough risk in these programs.

While it is great to see the republican platform address—and offer some support—for renewable energy, it does concern me that the party doesn’t seem to see a place for government funding of these technologies. I would like to see more detail on exactly what types of financial support, funding, tax incentives, market-based programs, etc., that the party is willing to entertain to help build our nations renewable sector. I sincerely hope that the Republican Party is willing to put strong financial incentives in place to help increase the use and availability of renewable energy in the U.S.—especially considering I see no indication they are entertaining the idea of cutting the substantial subsidies that our nation’s fossil fuel industry current enjoy. Allowing a system that continues to offer large subsidies to established fossil fuel industries, but fails to offer the same support to the renewable sector would be a disservice for this country—and its goals of energy independence, and job creation.

The republican platform also calls the current administration’s national security strategy a failure. In relation to energy under the foreign policy component of its platform, the Republican Party says the Obama administration’s national security strategy “subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates ‘climate change’ to the level of a ‘severe threat’ equivalent to foreign aggression.”

Biofuels are not mentioned in the Republican Party platform.

Ok, onto the democratic platform

The Democratic Party platform also embraces an “All-of-the-Above Energy Policy.” The energy section of the platform is titled “Economy Built to Last.” Under the section, the democrats note that they have supported the development of nearly 225,000 clean energy jobs, and that the country is importing less oil, has cleaner air and is paying less for energy as a result. Specifically, the party said that the amount of energy we get from wind and solar has doubled.

“We can move towards a sustainable energy-independent future if we harness all of America’s great natural resources. That means an all-of-the-above approach to developing America’s many energy resources, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas,” states the platform. It also notes that the Democratic Party has set a goal of generating 80 of our electricity from clean sources by 2035. “Democrats support making America the world’s leader in building a clean energy economy by extending clean energy incentives that support American businesses and American jobs in communities across the country. It’s not enough to invent clean energy technologies here; we want to make them here and sell them around the world,” the platform further states.

In the platform, democrats also say, “We are saving consumers money on their energy bills—both at home and at the pump—but Republican energy policy is full of empty rhetoric and bad ideas that would make their Big Oil donors even richer at the expense of the middle class. Republicans would keep giving billions of taxpayer dollars a year to profitable oil companies and increase costs on consumers. Democrats will fight to cut tax subsidies for Big Oil while promoting job growth in the clean energy sector, so we can cut the deficit and increase jobs and growth in America.”

Regarding agriculture, the party notes it is “committed to creating a rural economy built to last—one focused on reclaiming the security of the rural middle class by growing the food, fiber, and fuel that the rest of the world buys… We support a clean energy economy that is creating jobs and helping lower energy costs in rural America. U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history. We have made historic investments in renewable fuels and expanded markets for them.”

The Democratic Party also addresses climate change in its platform. “We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation—an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits,” notes the party.

When you take an objective look at the information actually contained within the platform papers, the Democratic Party clearly offers far more detail of its support of renewable energy and how it will help advance the sector.

I know that when it comes to politics, our nation’s citizens have to take into account a full view of each candidate’s policies and positions when choosing who to support.  I also realize that even though our entire industry is focused on clean, renewable energy, who we vote for is a personal decision—not one dictated by our jobs. That said, when it comes to support for renewable energy, this presidential race is no contest. The Democratic Platform clearly offers the most support to our sector. That’s not my personal bias—that would be clear to anyone who takes the time to read the platforms.