In stunning shift, solar and wind industry bets big on Republicans in 2018 election

Yet Democrats, who actually support clean energy, are poised to take back control of the House this fall.

Solar and wind industries shift political support to Republicans. CREDIT: OpenSecrets and FEC data, Reuters Graphics
Solar and wind industries shift political support to Republicans. CREDIT: OpenSecrets and FEC data, Reuters Graphics

American wind and solar companies are backing Republican candidates over Democrats in the 2018 election cycle by nearly two-to-one, which marks a huge shift from previous election cycles, a new analysis by Reuters shows.

Clean energy political action committees (PACs) have so far donated $247,000 to Republicans in the 2018 cycle, but only $139,300 to Democrats, Reuters reports. That’s a huge reversal from the last mid-term cycle in 2014, which saw clean energy PACs  donate twice as much to Democrats as Republicans.

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This is doubly remarkable for a couple of other reasons. First, Congressional Republicans have a long history of working to undermine clean energy, whereas Democrats have a long history of supporting clean energy.

Second, the 2018 cycle is widely seen as the first serious opportunity in a decade for the Democrats to take back control of the House of Representatives — and in a close election, clean energy support for GOP candidates might make a difference.

Significantly, the Reuters data suggests that it is the solar industry that’s most responsible for this shift, with many solar PACs donating far more to GOP candidates than Democrats.

2018 donations by PAC to Republicans and Democrats. CREDIT: OpenSecrets and FEC data, Reuters
2018 donations by PAC to Republicans and Democrats. CREDIT: OpenSecrets and FEC data, Reuters

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), for example, has so far donated $56,500 to Republicans this cycle but only $26,700 to Democrats. “In general, we gave money to people who are in a position to help us with our policy priorities,” SEIA chief executive Abigail Ross Hopper told PV magazine this week. “More and more solar projects are getting built in red districts, and solar is truly a bipartisan source of energy.”

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Hopper explained that because solar is growing in red states and because “Republicans control the House, Senate, and White House, we felt we struck the right balance with our limited PAC budget.”

In terms of what the solar and wind industry has gotten for its investment so far, it’s true that the big GOP tax bill left clean energy mostly unscathed. And that was a big improvement over the original House and Senate bills.

But it’s also worth remembering it was GOP politicians who had made the wind and solar industries swallow a phase out of their tax credits in the previous Congress.

The big question going forward is whether the industry will shift their support back to Democrats for the remainder of the cycle, given that any further legislation this year is unlikely, and given that Democrats could well take back control of the House this November.