Obama launches second term with pledge to free US from foreign oil

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Barack Obama, elected this morning for a second US presidential term, has promised to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, but the future of key national policies on renewable energy remains unclear.

In his acceptance speech, Obama pledged to “free ourselves from foreign oil”, and in earlier speeches in the presidential race had promised to end subsidies for fossil fuel companies and reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

But with the Democrats and Republicans respectively retaining control of the Senate and House of Representatives, the prospect of continuing divisions in Congress raises questions over the extent to which the President will be able to continue the work he began in his first term of bolstering domestic clean-tech industries.

In particular, the futures of the production tax credit and investment tax credit, both of which have been key mechanisms for stimulating growth in the US wind and solar industries, could be affected if the Republican Senate decides to punish Obama for his victory.

Mitt Romney, Obama’s unsuccessful challenger, had pledged to drop the PTC, with suggestions that the ITC might have gone the same way under a Romney administration. Federal support for green energy also became highly politicised in the run-up to the election following the collapse of solar firm Solyndra, which had received a US$535 million loan guarantee.

Stephen Simko, an energy analyst at Morningstar, told Reuters: “Obama can love solar as much as he wants, but I don’t know a whole lot more that is going to happen in terms of new, constructive policy.”

However, there appears to be strong public appetite for greater future use of renewable energy technologies. In a recent survey by the US Solar Energy Industries Association, 92% of respondents came out in support of solar and said they wanted to see it become a larger part of the country’s future energy mix.

Meanwhile, 78% of voters in the survey said federal government should continue to provide tax credits and financial incentives to encourage the development and use of solar energy.

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