If Conservatives like to conserve, you’d think they’d be for conserving their environment, right?
Well, they do. In the 2012 elections, Americans voted ‘yes’ to 46 out of 57 conservation measures on local and statewide ballots – an approval rating of 81% – causing the President of The Trust for Public Land, to comment, “We saw voters across the political spectrum say ‘yes’ to taxes and spending for conservation which helps their communities.”
We all know how much conservatives hate raising taxes, yet here they are voting with liberals to raise $2 billion for conservation measures. Just as surprising is the conservative approval of renewable energy, particularly solar. Remember the near apoplectic reactions conservative media and politicians had over Solyndra? Yet 92% of Americans, including 75% of Republicans, still agree that America should develop and use more solar.
Surprisingly, there are lots of top, influential and famous conservatives supporting renewable energy sources, and their numbers are growing as fast as the renewable energy industries themselves. (Solar grew at five times the rate of the rest of the economy last year.) So who are these Green Elephants, and why are they bucking the stereotype?
First to mind is Arnold Schwarzenneger, the former Republican governor who led California to becoming 40% more energy efficient than the rest of the United States. He also signed the “Million Solar Roofs” initiative, and an executive order requiring utilities to get 33% of power from renewables by 2020 (this number has now since become a ‘floor’, not a ‘ceiling’ with the recent passage of AB327 in the state).
But that’s just kooky California right? What about deep red States like Kansas or Texas? In Kansas, renowned conservative Governor Sam Brownback said he wanted Kansas to be known as the Renewable State. He also signed a renewable portfolio standard in 2009 calling for 20% of peak capacity to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. That’s because wind energy has already produced 12,000 jobs in Kansas, and local landowners are now getting over $13 million annually from land rents.
Meanwhile Texas is the largest wind-powered state in the country with over 10 gigawatts (GW) installed, which in 2010 produced 12.1 percent of the state’s electricity. It’s strong renewable portfolio standard was put in place by none other than tree hugging governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry. First Bush supported a new mandate to add 2 GW of renewable energy by 2009, which was exceeded in 2005. Then Perry supported new goals of 10 GW by 2025, which Texas exceeded by 2012.
Even in ‘non-sunny’ states, there are thriving solar industries and enthusiastic conservative solar supporters. Like Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey who has signed numerous renewable energy bills, including the so called solar “resurrection” bill which helped New Jersey become America’s fourth largest solar state per capita. At the signing, Christy said, “Renewable energy not only helps meet our goals of increasing sustainability and protecting the environment, but can be an engine for economic growth and the creation of good-paying jobs for the people of our state.”
There’s also revered conservative thinkers, known more for their firebrand politics than support for clean energy. Like Republican Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona who supports renewable energy to the point of trying to brand Arizona as the nation’s Solar Capital. In Georgia, birthplace of the Green Tea Party, Republican Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr., recently introduced a plan for the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power, to add 525 megawatts of solar in the next 3 years.
There’s evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson who in 2008 appeared in a commercial advocating protection of the planet with his longtime ‘pal’, the Rev. Al Sharpton. There’s top influential Republicans like Lindsay Graham and Newt Gingrich, both vocal advocates of renewables. There’s Legendary Republican names like Barry Goldwater Jr., the head of TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed) in Arizona where utilities are trying to stifle the home solar market. There’s even a Green Tea Party coalition that believes renewable energy sources can break up the utility monopolies, create jobs, decrease pollution and increase choice and energy security.
And they’d be right. Conservatives are interested in conservation: conserving jobs, national security, and consumer choice. But above all, conservatives love conserving money. Which is why so many opt for home solar. In fact, according to a survey Sunrun did recently, a higher percentage of Republicans (64%) have made green home improvements than Democrats (58%). With solar prices becoming competitive without subsidies, even naysayers are increasingly saying ‘aye’ for clean, renewable, distributed, home grown, energy.