Ever since the 2016 elections, dozens of states and cities have stepped up with commitments to keep the clean energy revolution moving forward. With pledges for 100% renewable energy via the #ReadyFor100 initiative and continued climate action through the “We Are Still In” coalition, it’s been an inspiring time for local and state-level action.
However, in many cases these powerful big picture visions have yet to be matched by the kinds of concrete policies that the industry needs to make investing in clean energy easier and cheaper — an especially pressing concern now that the #TrumpTariffs threaten to slow cost reductions on the hardware side for solar.
Enter the Energy Future Project, a new initiative from Dan Rosen, Mosaic’s co-founder and Chairman of the Board, and Ryan Gallentine, formerly of President Obama’s re-election campaign as well as Tesla. Bringing together their experience in clean energy, activism, and political campaigns, the duo aims to put clean energy policies on the ballot at the state and local level across the country in 2018.
Fresh off the launch of the initiative, Ryan gave us some of his time to answer six questions we had about what they’re up to and why.
1. How did this initiative come together?
While the clean energy sector continues to grow overall, the policies enacted over the last several years by regulators and legislatures have not always helped. Politics, not technology, is now the biggest issue facing clean energy growth. As it turned out, many leaders from the clean energy industry, nonprofit advocacy, and political world were already thinking about these issues after the 2016 election.
We quickly realized there is no political organization explicitly focused on state level clean energy electoral advocacy. Further, no entity exists to hold elected officials accountable for their actions during legislative sessions or expose their ties to fossil fuel political benefactors. Energy Future Project is the organization that will fill that role and give clean energy the voice it has earned in politics.
2. In contrast to some of the national battles that clean energy advocates fought last year — the tax credits, the trade case — you’re focusing on action at the state and local level. Why?
Decisions made at the federal level are absolutely vital to creating a clean energy future as quickly as possible, so those issues are very important. However, the success of clean energy and the continued transition away from fossil fuels will happen first at the state level, where most decisions around energy policy are made. We realized the biggest asset we have as a movement is public support for clean energy. Large majorities of Americans from every political party and demographic group say they want more clean energy. We think the best way to take advantage of that is by putting the decision right into the hands of the people through state and local ballot initiatives where they can vote on policy directly.
It is also imperative that we start shaping state legislative chambers this cycle in order to accelerate a transition to clean energy. We plan to support targeted candidates who are champions on this issue, and to help recruit people from our movement to run for local office themselves. We think having first-hand clean energy experience in state legislatures and governor’s offices will help us avoid policy problems in the first place.
3. Can you give some examples of the types of policies that can make a big difference at this level?
We saw over the past few years in Nevada what a big impact state policy can have. Solar became front page news and a major political factor following a regulatory agency’s decision to hike rates on solar customers. The state lost thousands of solar jobs that have only begun to come back after the state legislature reversed course.
Policies like renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which set goals for states to get a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources by a given date have proven enormously effective. It sends a signal to energy developers that we need to move away from fossil fuels. Most states are hitting them ahead of schedule and we think it’s time to get a lot more aggressive. 100% is now possible!
4. What’s the bigger obstacle to pro-clean energy policies today — inertia (and the challenge of breaking through the media cycle), or organized opposition from big energy interests?
It’s a bit of both. We are under no illusions about what we’re up against. Utilities and fossil fuel companies are some of the most powerful political forces in America. In most states they have been giving political contributions for decades and until now that has been a great investment for them! That influence gives them a big say in the policies that maintain the status quo the same and their ability to choose the people who are charged with regulating them.
That said, I see the inertia you mention as part of the broader dynamic we have to change, which is that voters want [clean energy], but are not prioritizing it with their vote. If we run a campaign on closing this accountability gap, voters are going to break out of that inertia and expect their officials to deliver on clean energy or show them the door.
5. How does the Energy Future Project connect with Dan’s work at Mosaic and the vision of 100% clean energy homes?
I think the work being done at Mosaic and at clean energy companies of all sizes is absolutely crucial. The story of wind and solar is an American small business success story. The way we create true political power is by organizing at the local level, telling the story of the families and communities that have been changed by it, and recruiting and electing its heroes into public office.
Mosaic’s installer partners are job creators who are building our future every day in communities across the country. Their help with this effort is incredibly important because it shows the depth of the movement toward 100% clean energy.
6. And finally, how can people get involved?
If you are interested in organizing your community around clean energy issues this election cycle, or are interested in running for office using your clean energy experience, we want to help you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.