America’s rural voters are ready for renewable energy too

Source: By Lloyd Ritter, The Hill • Posted: Monday, November 21, 2016

By now everyone knows Clinton lost much of her husband’s famed “Bubba vote.” Rural Americans, including a lot of Democrats and Independents, voted in large numbers for Trump.

Why? Jobs and economics were certainly primary factors. Despite recent national economic growth, much of rural America is still suffering and more needs to be done. Interestingly, there is an opportunity that might not initially seem a natural focus for the president-elect: rural renewable energy development.

Agriculture and rural groups have long supported rural energy; rural citizens in the Rust Belt, Midwest, New England, West and the South of all political persuasions do too.

Why do they care? Simple economics and patriotism. Rural energy’s potential is strong. Farmers, ranchers, farm coops and businesses want to minimize costs or generate new income through energy. They can do this by investing in biofuels, putting up solar arrays or wind turbines, using geothermal technology, etc.

It makes sense. And making those efforts is indeed patriotic. Folks want to contribute to national goals like energy production and security.

The president-elect espouses an “all of the above” strategy, with emphasis on fossil fuels. But to get jobs going for more rural Bubba voters, he has to put real focus on “new energy” jobs and domestic manufacturing as well.

The U.S. has stunningly large biomass resources across the country, and we haven’t even scratched the surface in the development of new energy crops that can be harvested sustainably.

Advanced biofuels will happen. And more and more farmers, businesses and biofuels developers are turning to non-fuel bioenergy like power, bioproducts and renewable chemicals production.

Biogas energy from feedlots and dairies has plenty of room for growth as well. Estimates suggest as many as 1.53 million direct jobs already and $393 billion in economic growth in many of these new energy production processes.

Solar is clearly on the move and can be deployed throughout rural America from farm fields to homes and business rooftops. And the Distributed Wind Energy Association estimates that creating more than 100,000 rural jobs over the next decade is entirely achievable. That’s a lot, with gigawatt potential comparable to seabed based offshore wind.

Here are three things (outside of tax policy) the incoming Trump administration should do to capitalize on this untapped potential:

First, support ag energy programs that work. We have a farm bill coming up, which provides an opportunity to renew important bi-partisan energy title programs. There are several programs such as REAP, the Biorefinery Assistance Program and BCAP — each with fairly unique attributes and goals — that deserve to continue and flourish. There may be new ideas to modestly expand programs and initiatives that should be given serious consideration.

For example, an “Energy Innovation Grant” program, similar to Conservation Innovation grants, could provide greater flexibility to USDA to fill in “energy gaps,” innovate in cutting-edge rural renewable technologies, and grow jobs and factories.

Second, keep Department of Energy renewable energy programs going and properly funded. DOE has a role to play in wind, biomass, and other “rural renewable” technologies. Funding ought to be kept stable and greater emphasis paid to rural energy opportunities like distributed wind.

Third, keep the existing White House Rural Council or create a new one. Such a White House-led rural advisory team would continue coordinating rural development goals across the Federal government, ideally with special emphasis on jobs and energy creation.

So let’s hope the incoming Trump administration zeroes in on rural energy. Congress ought to be on board as well — it’s what rural Chambers of Commerce, farm groups, many rural electric utilities support to produce energy and/or help their members; and it helps small businesses, the lifeblood of American job creation.

If the new administration heads in this direction, working with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, everybody wins – Bubba voters, rural communities, small businesses and homegrown domestic manufacturing alike.

Lloyd Ritter is the co-director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition and founder of Green Capitol, LLC. You can contact him at