The 2016 election is just over a year away and, if history is any lesson, energy will be a big topic of debate. Oil and gas prices will come up, along with the potential collapse of U.S. shale drilling. But innovative new technologies like wind and solar energy are becoming political footballs as well.
If you're an energy investor, here are the three energy topics you need to follow ahead of the election:
Travis Hoium: Like it or not, gas prices always play a role in presidential politics. Forget the fact that the President of the United States has very little impact on oil or gasoline prices, whoever is in office is blamed or given credit for everything that's going on. Let's look at two ways this could impact the election.
The price of gasoline has dropped like a rock since mid-2014 and is now about $2.40 per gallon. If you remember regularly paying $4 per gallon a year or two ago, that could lead you to think the leaders in office today are doing a good job when it comes to energy. But oil and gasoline prices can change rapidly, and if U.S. oil production sinks in 2016, as expected, we could see a spike in prices. With short memories at the polls, rising gasoline prices could work against Democrats. Time will tell where they stand on election day.
On the same token, U.S. oil production could be seen as trending in the right, or wrong, direction depending on how you look at it. U.S. oil production has nearly doubled under the Obama administration, which you could see as a good thing. But spending on oil wells has been slashed over the past year and thousands of people are out of work as a result.
It's clear that long-term U.S. energy production is rising and prices are falling, but if they're trending in a different direction in the months leading up to the election, people could see energy very differently on election day.
Dan Caplinger: One ongoing source of contention between the government and parts of the energy industry is the current ban on exporting crude oil from the U.S. to foreign customers. Currently, crude oil has to be refined domestically, with the resulting gasoline, diesel fuel, and other refined products then becoming eligible for export. That has been a boon for domestic refiners, which are able to capitalize on the inability of oil producers to reap higher global market prices for their crude and are instead stuck with the lower prices on the domestic market. After obtaining their crude oil inputs at a low price, refiners can then turn around and profit from wide crack spreads that are available in the global markets for refined diesel and gasoline.
In early October, the House of Representatives voted to lift the ban on crude oil exports, but the president has threatened to veto the bill even if it manages to make it out of the Senate, and the 261-to-159 House vote suggests that mustering the two-thirds supermajority necessary to override a presidential veto would be unlikely. With Republican presidential candidates more likely to support lifting the export ban, the issue could easily become increasingly contentious during the campaign, especially depending on how prices of crude oil and refined products behave over the next year.
Adam Galas: A major energy trend that could be affected by the 2016 elections is the possible extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit or ITC, which currently allows one to write off 30% of the cost of a residential or commercial solar projects but is scheduled to fall to 0% and 10%, respectively, after December 31, 2016.
The ITC has been a key factor in U.S. solar installations exploding in recent years, especially for residential solar projects such as those installed by SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY). In fact, though SolarCity is working hard toward diversifying its funding sources so as to insulate itself from the elimination of residential solar tax incentives. Solar bonds, as of its most recent quarter tax equity funds -- which exist solely to monetize the ITC -- still make up around 35% of its total project funding.
California Democratic Congressmen Mike Thomson has introduced the New Energy for America Act (H.R. 2412), which would extend the current ITC for another five years With both houses of Congress currently in Republican hands, though, it's far from certain whether the ITC extension will pass. For SolarCity, the extension of the ITC may not necessarily be a matter of survival given the great strides the company has made in cutting costs and securing alternative funding sources. Others that have, however, may not be so fortunate.. Investors should take note that should the ITC extension fail to pass, it might hurt solar compaies' share prices because it might greatly slow down their growth rate.
Energy will be key in 2016
Oil production, exports, gas prices, and renewable energy will all be key topics in the run-up to the election, and in each case, public policy plays a role in them as well. Who wins both the White House and Congress will define energy policy for the next few years, and with energy changing rapidly, that could be good or bad for your energy investments.