For clean energy, a hazy path ahead under Trump

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Large wind turbines spin at an Altamont wind farm off Dyer Road near Livermore, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 7, 2015. Google has signed an agreement to buy power from NextEra Energy’s Golden Hills Project, that will help provide electricity to the Googleplex and the company’s data centers. The project will remove the old existing wind turbines to be replaced by 48 new and much larger wind turbines. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

By Louis Hansen | lhansen@bayareanewsgroup.com |

PUBLISHED: February 3, 2017 at 6:00 am | UPDATED: February 3, 2017 at 3:18 pm

When Oakland-based green business analyst and author Joel Makower wrote up his annual report on the clean energy industry, he had Donald Trump on his mind as he typed the introduction:

“It’s hard to imagine a time more hopeful and horrifying for sustainable business.”

That sums up the uncertain future facing clean energy executives, investors and environmentalists. And perhaps nowhere are the stakes higher than in California, which is a hub for clean energy jobs and innovation.

Trump’s presidency brings a dramatic change in tone and policy from the Obama administration, which encouraged the development of renewables. Trump has championed fossil fuels, appointed advisers who question climate change and has promised to eliminate many environmental regulations.

Still, many in the business community remain optimistic that the fast-growing industry will continue to expand regardless of the occupant in the White House. Many states have their own green energy initiatives and corporations have made big investments in renewable energy. The industry also helps power two of Trump’s priorities: blue collar jobs and economic development.

Malcolm Woolf, senior vice president for policy at industry lobby Advanced Energy Economy or AEE, said it’s too soon to tell how the administration will approach regulations for renewable energy.

“You can’t judge the administration by the president’s tweets,” he said.

Others, like Gov. Jerry Brown, have raised a defiant tone to federal efforts that seek to curb progressive clean energy and emissions laws.

“We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight,” Brown told scientists at a San Francisco speech in December.

Clean energy is a $200 billion annual industry in the U.S. and a $1.4 trillion market worldwide, according to AEE.

In California, clean energy businesses — including solar, wind and energy-efficient construction materials — employ about a half-million people, and green jobs have grown 23 percent since 2013. The industry has three times as many workers as the entertainment business and is larger than the agriculture and fishing industry, according to federal statistics.

But Trump’s priorities have changed the conversation. The administration’s America First Energy Plan calls for rolling back regulations and encouraging more production of domestic oil, shale and natural gas.

“The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans,” according to the White House website.

Green energy supporters say the policy misses a key component.