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Trump victory won’t halt the U.S. clean energy boom

Dan Woynillowicz is policy director and Merran Smith is executive director of Clean Energy Canada, a national climate and energy think tank based at Simon Fraser University's Centre for Dialogue.

If you work in clean energy, chances are your inbox and Twitter feed have been overwhelmed with stories about the implications of a Donald Trump presidency for the renewable energy sector. If you were watching markets, no doubt you took note of falling stock prices for clean-energy companies.

The prospects seem grim. And that won't affect just U.S. companies. Canadian energy companies, from Enbridge to Alterra Power, have been growing through investments in renewable power south of the border. This investment creates jobs at headquarters here in Canada, not to mention value for their Canadian shareholders.

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There's no doubt that Mr. Trump and opponent Hillary Clinton had differing views on climate change and the opportunity clean energy offers. A lot of people lump the two together: If you want to reduce carbon pollution, build more clean energy. Since Mr. Trump thinks climate change is a hoax, that pretty much eliminates the case for clean energy – right?

Not so fast.

The reality is that clean energy has been booming in the United States for a whole bunch of reasons that don't have much to do with climate change. Things such as health, security and innovation, which lead to high levels of support amongst Republicans – yes, Republicans – for harnessing the power of American water, wind and sun.

Those federal tax credits for wind and solar? They were passed last December by a Republican Congress with bipartisan support. Revoking them would require a legislative effort that may not be looked upon kindly by the many Republican lawmakers who have renewable energy manufacturing and development in their states. Lawmakers like Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, who said this summer: "If he wants to do away with it, he'll have to get a bill through Congress, and he'll do it over my dead body." He won't be the only one: looking across the country – and the electoral map – the top-10 wind-energy producing congressional districts are represented by Republicans.

Besides, much of the renewable energy boom has been driven by state policy. You might recall that back when he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush passed legislation requiring utilities to buy renewable energy.

It led to a building boom that has made the state the largest producer of wind power in the United States. Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota lead the United States in the proportion of electricity generated by wind, and all are led by Republican governors. Ditto North Carolina, which trails only California in the development of new solar projects.

Up in New Hampshire, which also went for Mr. Trump, the newly elected Republican governor won on a platform that included support for the Northern Pass transmission line, which would move clean hydroelectricity from Quebec into New Hampshire and the New England power grid.

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Not only is this good news for Hydro-Québec, but it's also good news for New England states, as it will provide base-load power that can enable more development of in-state wind and solar.

Down in Florida, as Floridians delivered their support to Trump, they also voted to maintain unlimited opportunities for the expansion of rooftop solar. There are hundreds of state-level policies in red states and blue states that aren't going to disappear, and they are driving significant investment in clean energy.

Just last year, the United States saw $56-billion (U.S.) in clean-energy investment, second only to China. That kind of investment creates a lot of jobs: Almost 210,000 Americans are now employed in the solar industry, double the 2010 figures. This represents more people than those employed in oil and gas extraction. The U.S. Bureau of Labor notes that wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the country. Would Mr. Trump put these good jobs in jeopardy? Doubtful.

Looking at dollars and cents – and customers' wallets – it's also worth highlighting that the unsubsidized cost of wind and solar just keeps falling, down 61 per cent and 82 per cent respectively, between 2009 and 2015.

And these trends will continue, making clean energy the competitive choice. It's one of the big reasons that so many major U.S. companies are committing to renewable energy and signing big contracts for wind and solar.

If we learned anything from Mr. Trump's campaign, it was that we should expect the unexpected.

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Most people, and the stock markets, seem to think Mr. Trump will be bad for clean energy's prospects in the United States. They may very well be right.

Or, it might just turn out that clean energy will continue to rise. For clean energy, opportunity should trump ideology.

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