From a cynical point of view, political change comes about when a new group of people find a way to change the rules in such a way that they gain an advantage over previous champions. The classic example is when once standard practice is deemed to be corruption, and the previous champions are thrown in jail, leaving space for the reformers. Without calling the previous champions corrupt, I think we are about to see this happen in a big way to big energy.
Renewable energy has come a long way, but until recently, its been a side-show to carbon or nuclear, the fuels of choice for serious work. The idea of a carbon-tax has been (with the exception of the Northeast) somewhat anathema to US politics, and we seem unwilling to underwrite long-term tax incentives for carbon replacement. Too many jobs, too much of our economy is tied into carbon based fuels for a serious change in the value of carbon to take place. I think that is about to change.
Green Car Congress has an article that talks about the potential for a new wind farm in Wyoming to fuel Los Angeles. This proposed wind farm is massive. At 2,100 megawatts, it would be more than 3 times the size of the proposed Susitna-Watana dam. From there, the power would be sent to Utah, where a compressed air battery would stabilize the wind resource, and make it available for peak demand in California.
This is where I see the game start to change. The scope of the project directly affects jobs in 3 states. A fourth state, Texas, is the home to Dresser-Rand, manufactures the equipment for the compressed air batteries, and the turbines will be produced by GE, (Connecticut), meaning this project touches 10% of the Senate districts in the nation. While I am not going to argue that Senators from Texas or Wyoming will become hostile to oil, I do think that such large projects will insure that they become friendlier to the advantages of wind energy (although it must be said that Texas generates more power from wind than the next two states combined).
While fracking still provides a carbon-based fuel, natural gas releases less carbon per kWh than more traditional fuel sources. As more natural gas is used, the overall cost to industry of a carbon tax will decrease.
I predict that between this decrease in overall relative cost of the carbon tax, along with environmental advocates pushing for a carbon tax, will create an opportunity for a new group of people to change the rules to gain an advantage over their predecessors.
A carbon tax would lead the way for energy contractors and developers to profit off of rebuilding our generation infrastructure from the ground up. I suspect this will happen sooner rather than later.