The United States government doubled its financial support for solar power projects overseas last year under a climate-friendly investment policy written in the last days of the Obama administration, according to a Reuters review of government documents.
The growing U.S. support for foreign solar projects comes despite an ongoing federal investigation into past U.S. solar loans abroad. It also deepens confusion about President Donald Trump’s position on government support for renewable energy as his administration downplays the global warming threat and aggressively promotes fossil-fuel development.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the government’s international finance institution, loaned more than $630 million to foreign energy projects in 2017, 90 percent of which were solar, wind, or other low-carbon ventures, according to investment documents.
That compares to $797 million in total OPIC energy financing in 2016, 61 percent of which went to clean energy.
The agency’s lending to solar projects doubled to more than $250 million in 2017, supporting ventures in India, Africa and Latin America, according to the records.
(For a graphic detailing OPIC energy investments over time, see: tmsnrt.rs/2F0op2H )
White House spokeswoman Kelly Love did not respond to requests for comment.
OPIC is a self-funded government agency whose website says it aims to advance “U.S. foreign policy and national security priorities” by investing in ventures abroad. For 40 years, it has operated at no net cost to U.S. tax payers.
The agency formalized its preference for climate-friendly energy in an environmental and social policy statement adopted days before Trump’s inauguration. The document says the agency aims to support reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and promote low- and no-carbon fuels and technologies, efficiency and conservation.
That dovetails with former President Barack Obama’s effort to fight climate change but clashes with the current administration’s energy priorities.
Since taking office, Trump has rolled back regulation limiting carbon dioxide emissions to help coal and oil firms; signed an executive order requiring government agencies to reduce the influence of climate considerations in decisions; and announced the withdrawal of the United States from an international pact to combat global warming.
That might seem to suggest the administration would oppose continuing generous government support for solar – a leading climate-friendly competitor to fossil fuels – but the administration has never made that clear.
Trump has never proposed repealing the billions of dollars worth of federal incentives for renewable energy, which were preserved by a Republican-controlled Congress in December tax legislation. But Trump has expressed skepticism about the viability of solar and wind, calling both “very, very expensive.”
In January, Trump slapped tariffs on solar panel imports, saying the move would help domestic manufacturers. But what helps manufacturers may hurt solar installers that have relied on lower-cost imported panels, often from China.