Research shows fractured lawmaking hurts renewable energy

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence and staff talks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, before signing an executive order on the Keystone XL pipeline. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Research by two University of Connecticut professors found that countries with a less complicated and combative lawmaking process did better in promoting renewable energy usage than complex and politically fracture countries.

“(Renewable energy) is a very complex issue,” political science professor, Oksan Bayulgen said. 

Although certain countries are better at producing renewable energy than others for many technical reasons, such as market dynamics and natural resources, she believes that government policy does make a difference, Bayulgen said.

“And it is not just me saying this,” Bayulgen said. “(A) lot of experts (and) institutions say the same thing.”

There are many different types of policies that can help to promote renewable energy usage. But instead of focusing on specific policies and their effects, Bayulgen said she was interested in why certain countries were better at creating renewable energy policies than others.

Along with UConn political science professor Jeffrey Ladewig, Bayulgen wanted to know if a country’s lawmaking process had an effect on how renewable energy was used, according to the two professors’ research paper titled “Vetoing the future: political constraints and renewable energy.

Specifically, Bayulgen and Ladewig were interested in whether a country’s lawmaking system and the political landscape of the legislature impacted renewable energy usage, according to their paper.

Bayulgen and Ladewig reasoned that there are these individuals, groups, and institutions in lawmaking, called veto players, whose support is needed to bring about any kind of change in law and policy, according to the research paper.  

The more levels of political constraints there are in policy making, the more veto players there are, which makes it harder to change the status quo, according to the paper.

The idea of veto players and political constraints are backed up by literature in political economy, Bayulgen said.

Based off of these concepts, Bayulgen and Ladewig theorized that higher levels of political constraint, such as divisive politics and a having a multiple different legislative institutions, would make renewable energy progress harder than it would be in less politically constrained countries, according to the research paper.

Bayulgen and Ladewig compared “political constraint” to the percentage of electricity production from renewable resources of 125 countries over the course of four decades, according to the paper.

Bayulgen and Ladewig found that indeed countries with fewer political constraints had better progress in renewable energy usage than those countries with more divisive politics and lawmaking institutions, according to the article.

“There is a long tradition of looking at veto players in various policy areas,” Bayulgen said. “Based on that, having a high number of veto players and having high political constraints inhibiting change and progress on policy makes sense, intuitively and theoretically.”

Progress in renewable energy faces structural and market barriers. That does not, however, discount the impact of policy, such as subsidization of fossil fuels Bayulgen said.

“It is not just long term markets or infrastructure favoring fossil fuels,” Bayulgen said. “It is active governments policy in many countries that promote fossil fuels. So how does renewable energy compete against that?”

Today’s political environment in the United States is a good example of that, Bayulgen said.

“(On Tuesday), the Trump administration gave a green light to the Keystone pipeline and the Dakota pipeline,” Bayulgen said. “These are policies that signal more fossil fuel production.”

Other positive signals President Donald Trump has sent to the fossil fuel industry includes the removal of climate change references on the White House website, a commitment to eliminate president Obama’s carbon emissions-cutting strategy, the Climate Action Plan and ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to freeze all grant money, along with the expected take down of the EPA’s page on climate information, according to a BBC by correspondent Matt McGrath.

In this instance, however, political constraints can be to the benefit of renewable energy, Bayulgen said.

“In a political setting, where decision making is decentralized, with so many gatekeepers and players, as is the case in the U.S., change is difficult,” Bayulgen said.

The assumption in Bayulgen’s and Ladewig’s research is that change is in favor of renewables. In this instance, the Obama administration has done a lot in favor of renewable energy, which make pro-energy renewables the norm, Bayulgen said.

“In the case like Trump’s, who want to make huge changes in the existing policy, maybe having a lot of gatekeepers is a good thing, because maybe it’ll slow down that negative change in terms of environment,” Bayulgen said.

The United States system allows states to follow their own beliefs in renewable energy, despite federal preferences. This moves renewable energy promotion to the state and local governments, Bayulgen said.

“Most people in the media focus on the environmental benefits,” Bayulgen said.   “Renewables release none to little greenhouse gas emissions… They are easily replenished, so in terms of sustainability, that is a good thing...But I think (a case needs to be made) economically. I think most people would agree that the renewable energy sectors is creating a lot of jobs.”

Since renewable energy tends to produce energy for local people more so than foreign entities, renewable energy has the potential to create energy independence, Bayulgen said.

“(Renewable energy) doesn’t drag a country into foreign wars,” Bayulgen said.

Although investments in renewable energy are growing, the overall usage of renewable energy compared to fossil fuels has stagnated, Bayulgen said.

However the good news is that year-to-year growth of renewable energy usage is increasing, Bayulgen said.

“I think most governments do take lip service to renewable energy,” Bayulgen said.  They can’t deny the benefits for it… Renewables can increase. You can produce more of it in a given year. But if fossil fuel production is also increasing the same amount, or more than renewables, than the share is going to be limited, stable, or decline even. So it doesn’t matter if you invest in renewables, if you also invest in fossil fuels.”

Bayulgen said that her next study will focus on how different towns in Connecticut approach renewable energies.


Dario Cabrera is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at dario.cabrera@uconn.edu.