Right Wing Group Mobilizes to Stop Solar Energy

December 5, 2013

We know that, even as some grassroots conservatives wake up to the benefits of renewable energy, the powers  that pull the strings of the conservative establishment are doing everything they can to throw roadblocks in front of the energy revolution.

I’ve reported on the attempts to squash the burgeoning Arizona solar industry, and the awakening “Green Tea Party” movement – renegade conservatives who actually believe all that stuff about freedom, markets, and choice. These people are no longer welcome in the rigidly controlled authoritarian fossil fuel brigade.

Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian:

An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilizing to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders” – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.

Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.

Details of Alec’s strategy to block clean energy development at every stage – from the individual rooftop to the White House – are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.

About 800 state legislators and business leaders are due to attend the three-day event, which begins on Wednesday with appearances by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and the Republican budget guru and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.

alex

Other Alec speakers will be a leading figure behind the recent government shutdown, US senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and the governors of Indiana and Wyoming, Mike Pence and Matt Mead.

For 2014, Alec plans to promote a suite of model bills and resolutions aimed at blocking Barack Obama from cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and state governments from promoting the expansion of wind and solar power through regulations known as Renewable Portfolio Standards.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show the core elements of its strategy began to take shape at the previous board meeting in Chicago in August, with meetings of its energy, environment and agriculture subcommittees.

A split is opening up between the lockstep Koch-sniffing wing of conservatism, and heretical conservative renewable energy activists, who include among their numbers several leading Tea Party activists, and in Arizona, none other than Barry Goldwater Jr. See this TV ad from the recent Arizona dust up.

See this item from Townhall.com for a look at the panicky squealing that’s erupted in response.

I first became aware of this scheme back in July—then, I thought it was just an anomaly. The Georgia Tea Party Patriots, cofounded by Debbie Dooley, partnered with the Sierra Club in support of increased solar in the state. When I talked to her for a column I wrote addressing it, she told me it was all about choice. With a sneer, she called the utility company “a monopoly” and explained that solar would give them competition while consumers would get options. Recently Dooley found her way on to Fox News, where she touted the Green Tea Coalition and claimed to be battling “big energy.”

In addition to Dooley, the Green Tea Coalition’s launch featured three other organizers:

•Shane Owl-Greason—Co-founder of Georgia Solar Utilities, a solar energy company that will benefit from activities of the Coalition.

•David Blackman—Environmental activist since graduation from college. He said he was connected to the Citizen’s Climate Lobby—an organization founded after assistance from former vice-president Al Gore.

•Seth Gunning—Beyond Coal organizer for the Georgia Sierra Club. Another environmental activist since graduation from college.

But, Dooley is the one getting the news coverage because she’s from the right. The media loves that they have a convert, and she loves the attention.

So, the Georgia story was when I first became aware of this type of discordance. But it is not as unique as I first thought.

dontread

In Texas, the poser is Jeff Clark, who served as a member of the advance staff for the campaign of George W. Bush and was later appointed by Bush to co-chair the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council. At an October 16panel discussion on the future of wind power in Texas, hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and attended primarily by small government proponents, Clark touted his Republican bona fides, as he argued that wind energy promoted economic activity. According to a report from my friend and mentor Robert Bradley, who was also a panelist, Clark made a case for wind power by “providing all the statistics of how his industry had rescued poor rural areas in the state by providing income to struggling farmers and enlarging the tax base.”

While most true conservatives are opposed to government subsidies, Clark intoned the two-wrongs-make-a-right view by citing that since all forms of energy have received or do receive government subsidies, wind should, too. However, as Bradley points out: “this begs the question of how much, and whether subsidies for one energy source are gravy and for another are meat-and-potatoes.”

Clark’s most unique appeal to the conservatives in the room came when he implied that God is on the side of wind power: “The Bible tells us to wisely use our resources and to conserve.”

The biggest shill yet can be found in Arizona in the form of former Republican Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr. An article from the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine says: “His support for solar comes from conservative free-market principles rooted in ‘creating choice for the American consumer.’” Goldwater, son of five-term Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, whose name is synonymous with conservatism in America, is chairman of the advocacy group: TUSK (short for Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed). Tusk’s logo is a red, white, blue elephant. (Note: the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party. Coincidence? I don’t think so.)

See more panic, here about emerging conservative support for Wind power, this time with peculiar references from fundamentalist religion and the “central Planner in the sky”… –
Master Resource “A Free Market Energy Blog”:

Then came something peculiar in his closing plea. Clark invoked “biblical doctrines” to imply that God is on the side of windpower. The Bible tells us to wisely use our resources and to conserve, Clark intoned. Use my limitless wind, not my finite fossil fuels, the heavens were presumed to say.

One can retort that an all-knowing God would not be captured by the broken-window fallacy and other myths promoting uneconomic earthly activity. God is fuel-neutral and put mineral resources on earth to be used economically, a Biblical free marketeer can argue.

What was also very interesting is that Clark never once mentioned global warming as a rational for generating electricity from wind. In review, what was argued in his Red State Case was:

  • Helping poor Texans where the wind farms are (yes, U.S. taxpayers and state ratepayers are subsidizing the state’s rural areas via wind subsidies)
  • Using Texas resources instead of sending ‘our’ dollars to other states (micro-protectionism); and
  • God’s instruction to conserve our resources by using his inexhaustible wind (the ‘sin of presumption’).

Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, fiscally concerned Democrats: Beware! Wind power is a solution looking for a problem and has nothing to do with the free market and limited, constitutional government.

With this in mind, here are some questions for Mr. Clark to answer for us.

  1. Why should energy policy be based on government intervention instead of voluntary transactions between buyer and seller?
  2. Can an intellectual case be made for windpower without climate alarmism given the demotion of depletion and pollution ills in the state and nation?
  3. The Earth abounds with concentrated, dense energy, not only dilute flows of energy. Why should a divine being—a central planner in the sky—want us to use less-economic rather than more-economic energy?

42 Responses to “Right Wing Group Mobilizes to Stop Solar Energy”

  1. kingdube Says:

    Two possibilities:

    1) These people against solar are evil SOB’s bent on destroying the Earth…knowing it will likely last their own lifetime and indifferent to the consequence on their children.

    or

    2) They’re tired of throwing good money after bad and are fed up with the childish notion of “free solar energy” when it has proven itself to be expensive, unreliable and ecologically damaging.

    You can just pick one possibility at random…or…educate yourself about the failed reality of solar.

    • fortranprog Says:

      I don’t think that people who are against solar power are evil sons of anything, they are just either very set in their ways, stubborn, intransigent and maybe financially or politically motivated. There is much research going into improving solar power in many of the Universities of the world today, and the technology is moving forward very quickly. Why not harness the power of the Sun, it has been with us since the beginning of Earth. 1.3 billion fellow citizens of our planet are without access to grids or electricity at all. Solar power will help these areas. So please do not just dismiss the subject as throwing good money away.

      • kingdube Says:

        Have you used solar panels? I have. They’re not what you might think.
        I have no quarrel with continued university research. And someday they might be a useful contributor to a capable energy system. That day just isn’t today. And it’s not likely to come anytime soon.

        • fortranprog Says:

          I confess apart from powering a modest fish-pond fountain the answer is no, but the goldfish are very happy.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          If Germany & New Jersey, with their relatively weak insolation, can both find solar to be useful, then the entire bottom 1/2 of the Lower48 are only making excuses.


          • Define “useful” in this context.  The subsidies in Germany make it a questionable subject for comparison at best, and New Jersey’s incentives program has been newsworthy for its troubles.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            A nuclear energy proponent is hardly the right person to be disparaging someone else subsidies.
            And all energy sources benefit or have benefited from subsidies, favorable lending or supportive legislation.

            NONE in the past 150 years have been so cheap, so safe, so easy to exploit, so lacking in harmful byproducts,so superior that they could have gained a foothold without financial & legislative support.


          • A nuclear energy proponent is hardly the right person to be disparaging someone else subsidies.

            Subsidies?  The nuclear weapons program is not a nuclear-electricity subsidy, and if the naval reactor program is a subsidy for electric utilities (no naval reactor comes near the GW power level) then NASA’s aerodynamics and composite materials R&D efforts are subsidies for wind power.

            NONE in the past 150 years have been so cheap, so safe, so easy to exploit, so lacking in harmful byproducts,so superior that they could have gained a foothold without financial & legislative support.

            And your point is?

            Nuclear power does a very good job of keeping its harmful byproducts out of anyplace they could do harm.  Arguably, the existence of the lake in China turned to toxic sludge by the byproducts of rare-earth refining (which is essential for the current generation of direct-drive wind turbines) shows that wind does more harm than nuclear, while generating far less energy.  Last, nuclear energy is the single most effective replacement for coal-fired electricity.  If we are taking climate change as the life-and-death issue it is, we have no alternative to nuclear at this time.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            “Arguably, the existence of the lake in China turned to toxic sludge by the byproducts of rare-earth refining (which is essential for the current generation of direct-drive wind turbines)”

            So REEs are not essential to anyone besides the makers of wind turbines?
            What would the nuke industry (and the world) look like if REEs had never been used at all?

            “Subsidies? The nuclear weapons program is not a nuclear-electricity subsidy, and if the naval reactor program is a subsidy for electric utilities (no naval reactor comes near the GW power level) then NASA’s aerodynamics and composite materials R&D efforts are subsidies for wind power.”

            Here are several contrary views:

            http://www.beyondnuclear.org/nuclear-subsidies/

            http://cen.acs.org/articles/89/i51/Long-History-US-Energy-Subsidies.html

            Click to access nuclear_subsidies_report.pdf


            http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/438382/New-nuclear-energy-plant-for-French-owned-EDF-will-double-Britons-electricity-bills

            “Last, nuclear energy is the single most effective replacement for coal-fired electricity. If we are taking climate change as the life-and-death issue it is, we have no alternative to nuclear at this time.”

            Coal has so many downsides that almost anything else is better.
            Nuke plants in their present incarnations can only be a PART of the solution if we want to also quickly improve the situation of much of the Third World.
            Small & distributed will do that much more quickly than huge & centralized.


      • I don’t think that people who are against solar power are evil sons of anything, they are just either very set in their ways, stubborn, intransigent and maybe financially or politically motivated.

        Or maybe they understand the problems it can cause, and you don’t.

        1.3 billion fellow citizens of our planet are without access to grids or electricity at all. Solar power will help these areas.

        Those areas aren’t served by Arizona utilities.

        There is much research going into improving solar power in many of the Universities of the world today, and the technology is moving forward very quickly.

        Nothing is going to “improve” PV so that it doesn’t lose power output when a cloud moves across the sun, or at night.  No “improvement” is going to relieve the burden that a grid-connected PV system puts on other generators, to vary their output ever-more quickly to match generation with load.  PV and inverters could be free, and you would still have those issues to deal with… so long as you still had the LEGAL regime of “net metering” and “must-take”.

        Without those two legal details, utilities could curtail PV feeds to the grid and charge the users for the services that make them want to connect to the grid in the first place.  But this would also hit PV in the economics.  This is not a situation where everyone can be happy.

        California is trying to deal with this by forcing utilities to build energy storage into the grid.  Why PV and wind producers shouldn’t be paying for this storage instead, so they can supply dispatchable power like the other generators, is a question that ought to be put to the regulators.  As it is, it’s just one more example of cost-shifting away from those who create them because of political favoritism.  The winner has been selected, and handicaps are applied to guarantee the outcome of the race.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      clearly they are evil SOBs.
      and, judging by these posts, ignorant SOBs as well.

    • skeptictmac57 Says:

      False dicotomy
      Motivated reasoning
      Cognitive dissonance
      Confirmation bias

      These are some concepts that you should explore more deeply for better reasoning.

  2. fortranprog Says:

    And just to substantiate the University claim above here is a link to an exciting discovery from Cambridge and Mons.

    http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/two-for-one-in-solar-power


  3. *insert evil cackle*

    The people who are generating their own power and getting credits back from net metering are all laughing hysterically at these comments.

    There’s nothing “failed” about solar power.

    I suppose you could check with the US Marine Corps if you have continuing doubts about it’s effectiveness or the related cost savings.


  4. “Budget guru Paul Ryan” – good joke.

    —————-

    Here in Europe (OK, mostly Turkey, which is Asia) there are lots of U.S. investors putting their money into solar PV and wind installations. Next bonanza: Northern Africa, i.e. Desertec stuff. A major stumbling block still is the grid (not the cost of PV/wind), i.e. bringing the energy to the market. This is recent cutting edge technology, switching ultra high voltage DC.

    Energy is the basis of eonomics. At least modern physics based economic theorists know that. Investment into energy production is good money making. Ask the fossils.

  5. Wes Says:

    It’s kind of fun to be here in Arizona, where our biggest natural resource is sunlight, and watch the Tea Party and the Goldwater conservatives take on the lumbering old power companies. And regardless of what trolls like kingdube say, it just keeps getting better. The issue here is not whether solar works, the issue is paying for the grid, and the ruling we got on that made solar folks very happy, and the power companies were stunned.
    The next big tech issue is batteries, and there’s lots and lots of money going into that now. The next ten years are going to be something to watch!

    • MorinMoss Says:

      It wouldn’t surprise me to see further breakthroughs in both solar & storage coming out of Japan

      http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/japanese-energy-giants-rush-storage-solar-booms-58508

      http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Japans-Solar-Market-Surge-Blows-Away-Earlier-Forecasts

      China gets a lot of press but Japan is a longstanding powerhouse of research, innovation & manufacturing.

        • skeptictmac57 Says:

          Doesn’t read like their problems in Japan have anything at all to do with the technical feasibility of solar,but more like a bureaucratic mess due to the the hurried situation they found themselves in post Fukishima.
          I rule this ‘Straw Man’!

        • MorinMoss Says:

          All that is shown in that link is the effect of poor planning; your nuclear industry is hardly immune to that.


          • The poor planning which shut down Japan’s entire nuclear power industry out of fear was imposed on it from the outside.

            Of course, none of this takes away from the fact that the “green” prospects for replacing those nuclear plants with PV and wind have fallen woefully short of their projections, forget actually generating the power to offset the loss of nuclear.  Japan’s fuel imports and carbon emissions have skyrocketed.

            If you really care about earth’s climate, instead of having a vendetta against nuclear energy, you must be in favor of restarting Japan’s nukes… and building more.  A few tens of thousands displaced for some years is nothing compared to tens of millions displaced and their farmland destroyed by rising seas.  Get a sense of proportion, and get on the right side of the issue.  NOW.  There is NO TIME TO WASTE.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            I don’t support closing properly functioning reactors for no good reason and was surprised to learn that they were all shut more than a year ago.

            But it seems a few units have been restarted and there’s discussion about bringing others online.

            Japan emits about 4% of total anthropogenic CO2 and about 9 tonnes per capita and their population is FALLING.

            I’d rather see a small percentage reduction in emissions from both the USA & China.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            I don’t have a vendetta against nuclear energy.
            But I’m done waiting for them to stop failing on the promise of energy “too cheap to meter” on the public dime.


          • I’m done waiting for them to stop failing on the promise of energy “too cheap to meter” on the public dime.

            That canard again?  It was NEVER promised, it was a sound-bite as part of some blue-sky speculation offered by Lewis L. Strauss to the National Association of Science Writers in 1954.  (Rod Adams dissects it here.)  The first commercial nuclear power station wouldn’t flip the breaker for more than 3 more years, how COULD Strauss have promised anything?

            This is the lefty-side’s “hide the decline”.  It is dishonest to use it as an argument against nuclear energy as we have it today, if only because because “alternate energy” falls even farther away from its claims of “free and abundant”.  Uranium, at least, is energy-dense and available as needed.  Renewables are neither.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            Three years between a speech with promises and the start-up of 1st commercial reactor is barely the wink of an eye.


          • Rod Adams has clarifying commentary:

            Because of those characteristics, measuring the actual use for each customer is not required; it would be more cost effective and fair if customers were charged a flat fee based on the amount of power that they wanted to have available at any one time. This capacity charge would be more like a cable bill or a local phone bill.

            And here’s something even more significant from the article Adams references:

            In 1955, the year of Strauss’ speech, Babcock and Wilcox released the 37th edition of Steam: Its Generation and Use, an encyclopedia of steam generation history, application and equipment.  B&W is still a major supplier of steam generation equipment, for fossil and nuclear generation, and B&W Canada is world-renowned for its steam generators for nuclear plants.  In 1955, however, nuclear generation was still in its infancy; in Chapter 27 “Nuclear Power”, the section on “Economics of Nuclear Power” states:
                “The dominant factor in the development of nuclear power is its cost.  Studies by the AEC and its associated groups have indicated that the cost of power from the first few nuclear plants will be fairly high – several mills above the cost of conventional plants of the same size.  With improvements in design, fabrication methods and operating procedures, however, the cost of power from succeeding plants will be reduced considerably.  Many experts predict that the reduction will be sufficient to make nuclear power competitive with conventional power throughout most of the United States within the next 10 years.  In any event, it is worth while to exploit immediately the use of nuclear power in the high-power-cost areas of the world.  In some of these areas, nuclear power is undoubtedly already competitive.
                The chief reason for the prevailing optimism concerning the ultimate cost of nuclear power is that the cost of the nuclear fuel consumed to create a given amount of heat is much smaller than the cost of equivalent gas, oil or coal fuels.  Other nuclear plant costs, particularly equipment fabrication and fuel investment, may be higher than for conventional plants.  Since coal and oil costs are rising due to the utilization of poorer and poorer sources, it is apparent that the relative cost of nuclear fuel will be still less as time goes on.  This saving should compensate for the higher plant costs.  Another factor which must be considered is that development of nuclear power will help to conserve the world’s hydrocarbon resources for manufacture into propulsion fuels and for use in the synthetic chemical industry. [pp 27-7 to 27-8]

            So no, nobody in any position to do so ever made anything resembling a promise of “too cheap to meter”, aside from the possibility of a subscription model (buy a share and use all of it 24/7 if you want).  What’s most important here is the phrase “help to conserve the world’s hydrocarbon resources”, which we now recognize that we need to do for the environment rather than for ourselves.  Now, if people like you would only realize that we need a substitute for fossil energy, not mere austerity, we could finally get somewhere.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            ” Now, if people like you would only realize that we need a substitute for fossil energy, not mere austerity, we could finally get somewhere.”

            You probably meant to say “not ONLY mere austerity”. But it’s not austerity, it’s conservation. Our use of fossil fuels has been profligate for a long time.


          • You probably meant to say “not ONLY mere austerity”. But it’s not austerity, it’s conservation.

            Electricity has no intrinsic carbon emissions.  It’s possible to electrify nearly all fixed-site energy consumption, and a substantial fraction of ground-based mobile energy as well.  But this would involve a “profligate” increase in electricity use, the exact opposite of “conservation”.  Any attempt to tamp down electricity use in the name of fighting climate change or “conservation” would just maintain the demand for oil and natural gas.

            This problem cannot be solved with old, categorical-ideological thinking.  That’s how we GOT into this mess.  The fossil-fuel interests played the two opposing camps like fiddles, locking out its competition and laughing all the way to the bank.  We have to break free of the nonsense ideas before we can decarbonize.


  6. I think the best way to deal with ALEC at this point, is to show people how, er, dishonest? they’ve been for the last 40 years?

    http://desmogblog.com/2013/12/03/leaked-documents-reveal-irs-concerns-funding-crisis-corporate-lobbying-group-alec


  7. […] Above, Rachel Maddow reports on the Right wing war on Solar, expanding what I covered below. […]


  8. […] on the right wing war on solar energy. Utilities have a point that, as more and more customers invest in solar and renewable energy, the […]


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