Anti-Renewable Efforts Called Out and Turned Back
June 6, 2013
The Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests are fighting an increasingly desperate war against deployment of renewable energy. They know that the steadily increasing competiveness of wind, solar and other alternatives are fast overtaking their 19th century model for energy production.
In some cases, they can slow things down, but over the long term, they are guaranteed to lose. Their play is to delay and keep milking fossil fuel profits for as long as possible.
Put into effect nearly 15 years ago with bipartisan support, Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard has created thousands of jobs, cut down on harmful pollution and helped to keep more of Mainers’ energy dollars in the state. Requiring 30 percent of the state’s energy providers’ electricity sales to come from renewables such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and hydroelectric power, it has also led to tremendous investment by renewable energy companies that are paying more than $17 million annually in property taxes and employing more than 2,500 Mainers.
Simply put, the Renewable Portfolio Standard is working — for everyday Mainers and businesses alike. In light of our struggling economy, programs such as the RPS should be celebrated and protected. So what could possibly have motivated Gov. Paul LePage to devote an entire weekly radio address to attacking the program? And why are some elected officials pushing legislation that would dismantle it?
A new report by the Maine Conservation Alliance, Maine’s Majority Education Fund and Maine People’s Alliance, issued earlier this month, sheds some light on the powerful forces fueling LePage and his allies’ efforts to weaken Maine’s RPS: Charles and David Koch, billionaire industrialists from Kansas and owners of the second largest private company in the U.S. with revenues estimated at $100 billion a year.
The process goes something like this: Businesses affiliated with the Kochs (including oil and gas companies such as ExxonMobil) give vast sums of money to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, a membership organization that drafts conservative model bills that are introduced by legislators who are ALEC members and receive campaign donations from ALEC-affiliated groups. Once a bill is introduced, Americans for Prosperity, another national, Koch-connected group with a chapter in Maine, mobilizes to promote the legislation and attack any legislative opponents. In tandem with these efforts, the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative, free-market think-tank that is a member of the Koch-funded State Policy Network, will often push out reports funded by the same corporate interests that stand to benefit from their conclusions.
And from first-hand experience, I can tell you that this model — though sinister — works to a frightening degree. During the 126th Legislature alone, more than 20 ALEC-linked bills were introduced, including LD 646, sponsored by Sen. Edward Youngblood, R-Brewer, which would change Maine’s rules to include large hydropower as part of the calculation of the RPS. This bill is nearly identical, in both wording and intent, to the “Electricity Freedom Act,” which has been introduced in 16 other states just this year and is based on the findings from what this very paper referred to as “a biased report” released by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Massachusetts, which has received more than $817,000 from Koch foundations.
The shoddily crafted Beacon Hill report was widely disseminated by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and has been embraced by LePage, who continues to cite its “findings” as justification for weakening Maine’s renewable energy policies. Incidentally, ALEC also contributed nearly $96,000 to LePage’s election campaign in 2010 through its Private Enterprise Committee.
More confirmation from fossil industry organ FuelFix:
“We’re opposed to these mandates, and 2013 will be the most active year ever in terms of efforts to repeal them,” said Todd Wynn, task force director for energy of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or Alec, a lobby group pushing for the change. “Natural gas is a clean fuel, and regulators and policy makers are seeing how it’s much more affordable than renewable energy.”
President Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group for the oil and gas industry, along with the former governors of Colorado and New Mexico will speak about the issue today in New York at a conference hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Hydraulic-fracturing technology opened aging reservoirs for natural gas drilling, driving prices down about 72 percent from their record 2005 high. That’s making more expensive wind and solar power projects harder for utility regulators to justify, according to Alec and its allies, which include the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Killing support for renewable-energy policies threatens sales at companies from wind-turbine makers General Electric Co (GE). and Siemens AG (SIE) to SolarCity Corp. (SCTY), the San Mateo, California- based rooftop energy developer.
The push at the state level replicates efforts in Washington. Opposition from Republican lawmakers delayed the extension of a federal tax credit for wind power, prompting Vestas, the biggest turbine maker after GE, to fire 10 percent of its workforce at two Colorado factories.
Colorado citizens have been pushing their politicians to fight back, and this week, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill designed to expand use of widely popular renewable energy.
Today Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a measure to expand and improve the state’s Renewable Energy Standard that will drive clean energy investment, increase jobs and renewable project development in rural Colorado.
With today’s signature, Senate Bill 252, increases Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard for co-operative associations that provide wholesale electricity in the state, and for large electric associations that provide service to at least 100,000 customers. The bill doubles the amount of renewable energy these utilities must provide to 20 percent (from 10%) by 2020, while capping cost increases at 2 percent. Most of Colorado already has a 30% standard.
The move by Governor Hickenlooper puts Colorado back at the forefront on renewable energy and swings the momentum back in favor of clean energy nationally. The move also sends another big blow to fossil fuel interests, who invested heavily in rolling back renewable energy laws this year. So far, those efforts in the state and the ones in Montana, North Carolina and Kansas have fallen flat.
Xcel, the state’s largest utility, is already on track to provide 30 percent renewable energy and is making moves to go further. The utility recently announced it is buying an additional 550 MW of wind power. The move was motivated by cost savings, and will be above and beyond what is required by law.
As a result of the move by Xcel and the Governor’s signature on SB 252, Colorado will have an additional 1,000 MW of renewable energy or a 40 percent increase from the current amount of installed renewable energy in the state.
Facts, however, are stubborn things. A new report from Synapse Energy Economics, modeling renewable energy, mostly wind, impact on the Mid Atlantic states Transmission system, PJM, finds this:
These findings, based on the modeled year 2026, validate an economic preference for an energy future with greater levels of wind power than current renewable portfolio standards suggest. It is a future where wind-powered resources displace a significant portion of energy that would otherwise be obtained from traditional fossil fuels, all the while retaining sufficient resource adequacy to ensure reliable grid operation.
Increased wind power displaces fossil-fueled generation, primarily gas and coal-fired production.
It lowers emissions and exerts downward price pressure on wholesale energy markets. While not analyzed in this report, it creates jobs in installation and manufacturing across both the PJM region and other parts of the country, and its lowering of emissions reduces health costs. Even adding in the cost of wind-enabling transmission and recognizing that ongoing installations of gasfired resources will be required to offset the retirement of coal plants and add balancing capacity to the system, a doubling of wind power by 2026 relative to what would otherwise be in place with current RPS standards will allow consumers to reap economic and emission benefits.
The takeaway is that, when you hear talk of “citizens” or “grass roots groups” opposing renewable energy development – you are looking at an artificially created astro-turf movement, controlled and scripted at the top by a handful of big-money “think tanks” spewing Fox News ready talking points. Many of the individuals involved locally are so far down the chain, they are not even aware of who is pulling their strings.