In the “Show Me” State: More Conservatives Waking Up to Renewables

March 15, 2014

new-solar-cells-efficiency

Midwest Energy News:

A Republican from an exurban district in the red state of Missouri, Rep. T.J. Berry is also a self-described “green champion.”

Berry, who represents an area just outside Kansas City where cul-de-sacs give way to farm fields, is known as the leading advocate for renewable energy in the Missouri House of Representatives. This session, he’s introduced three bills which would advance solar energy.

Last year, the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association formally celebrated Berry for his support of solar power.

However, Rep. Berry hasn’t always been such a friend to solar in particular, nor to renewables in general.

Midwest Energy News asked Rep. Berry to trace his evolution from green-energy skeptic to green-energy champion.

Midwest Energy New: How would you characterize your view of renewable energy when you first joined the Missouri General Assembly in 2011?

Berry: It wasn’t on my radar screen. I am most definitely a Republican, a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. I wasn’t excited about the cost of it. I didn’t see the need to subsidize it.

Then I got to the legislature. In my freshman year, a [nuclear plant] site permit came to the legislature. I’m pretty agnostic when it comes to power — I want the light switch to go on.

But what triggered my evolution was that site permit. It was $40 million. I did some research on what was going on in Florida and Georgia — cost overruns. Why would we want to go down that road? When Wall Street won’t fund a building project, guess who does? The government. It does that by letting the public service commission increase the rates.

I thought, “If we authorize a $40 million site permit, they’ll come back and ask for money for construction.”

I began reading books on power generation. One of them broke down all of the different (technologies) that generate power. I believe in diversification. With all of the things that can go wrong with the grid, it would be good to have a chunk of solar, and a diversified grid.

I’ve supported solar and biomass legislation. The biomass bill was tax credits to help the industry. I’ve tried to do several things with net metering and the true-up. If I’m going to invest in solar, and the utilities don’t have to invest (in additional generation) I should get a benefit.

You raise some big issues there. Why would a Republican like yourself support tax credits for renewables, especially given your opposition to taxpayer support for a nuclear plant?

There’s a huge difference. People installing renewables are using private money and getting a tax credit. They’re not asking for a blank check, and for the government to write that check.

The price per watt of solar in Missouri has fallen from about $8 in 2008 to $3.50 now. If we can get it to $2.75, there will be no need for tax incentives. The idea is that if we get more solar going, we’ll get more efficiency. That is just what we’ve seen.

The question of what solar power is worth is a matter of intense debate currently. What do you think it’s worth?

If I put up solar, and I produce excess power in September, and in October I don’t, I’m going to give power to the utility at a wholesale rate, maybe 3 cents per kilowatt hour, and the next month, I have to buy it back at retail.

If we want a truly competitive system, it has to be tied to what utilities pay for wholesale power on an hourly basis. Peak-use power is charged at a very high rate, like 19 cents per kilowatt hour. If the utilities have to go on the grid and pay 19 cents an hour, they should pay me 19 cents at the peak.

Missouri derives 81 percent of its power from coal. You’ve called that a risky proposition. Risky in what sense?

The costs. If it suddenly becomes much more expensive, you have no other options. So you have to diversify, so the cost doesn’t hit a mountain and go straight up.

Do you expect the cost of coal to go up?

I do. I’m doing this for economic reasons, but they go hand in hand (with environmental considerations). So I’ve become a green champion.

Is your support of renewables mostly rooted in economic considerations?

It is, in the cost of energy and the diversification of risk. If you have a diversified grid, and lose power to some event, if you have a lot of wind and solar, that can pick it up.

Does this mean you see wind and solar mostly as backups, as insurance in the event that a coal or natural gas-fired plant fails?

We need to grow wind and solar, and definitely biomass. I see it as a security blanket, both in terms of national security and of keeping costs lower if the EPA requires carbon sequestration or carbon credits.

Why don’t more Republicans share your enthusiasm for renewable energy?

It’s all about industry. Most industries are resistant to change, and Republicans are much more industry-sensitive than Democrats.

How does renewable energy fit in with your political worldview?

The idea of stewardship is where it fits in with me. Trying to use resources wisely is where it fits in. I like solar because it allow us to have diversified generation. If you want to invest, you can control your own energy. Self-sufficiency always resonates with conservative people.

How hopeful are you that your legislation will pass?

It’s been heard in committee, and I hope to get it to the Senate. But it’s an election year, and energy issues are not on the front burner.

Even so, some renewable-energy advocates say there is generally more support in the legislature for renewables this year than in the past. Do you agree?

I think it’s growing. The NAACP was here three weeks ago. They had a full [session] on energy and the true-up. When you have organizations with different points of view, that builds [renewables] up. They came at it from the equality point of view.

There are plenty of business people saying, “This is a new industry. We should invest.”

It builds a groundswell. What’s important is that each of these groups has a different reason, but they all want to do the same thing.

I hear you’ve invested in a biomass project.

I have invested in it, but we have not made an announcement to the public. I authored the tax credit bill before I had an inkling (about investing in the technology.) I didn’t re-introduce the bill this year, because I didn’t want any possible conflict of interest.

Why did you decide to invest in biomass?

I have started four businesses. This is my fifth. I want to build a business, and I want to make money, and I want to build a business that contributes to diversifying our power source.

Are your fellow legislators and others surprised at the change in your thinking regarding renewable energy?

They are. It’s not a traditional Republican point of view. I’ve had to do a lot of education of my colleagues, one at a time.

Do you think you’re changing any minds?

Absolutely.

17 Responses to “In the “Show Me” State: More Conservatives Waking Up to Renewables”

  1. adelady Says:

    One at a time.

    Then another one. And another one.

    In the meantime, people like this bloke are also making those who haven’t become “another one” in response to his encouragement may think a bit and maybe be a bit more receptive to other people and other suggestions.


  2. Seriously, who does not want choice? Who would prefer to have their rates dictated, rather than being able to have competition between a large erstwhile monopoly and other means? It does not have to be a conservative point of view. There is no reason why conservatives should be against the environment or conservation. There are plenty of conservatives and others who hold those values. Its not really about labels. Those things just make sense to a lot of people, because, well, they should. Its time for us all to step back and look at what wedge politics has done to us. There is room for differences of opinion. There is also room for common good. Barnard is a governor in Iowa that wants wind energy. T.J. Berry has figured it out. There are a lot of other reasons to do these things than carbon. Lets not let wedge politics stop us from making progress. That is the Koch agenda, not ours.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Berry says, “What’s important is that each of these groups has a different reason, but they all want to do the same thing”. The “same thing”? Sounds nice, but “I want to make money” says it all about his basic motivation. If he can’t make $$$ off it, he has little common interest in joining with the NAACP or environmentalists over their concerns on the issue.

      Just like the Koch brothers—-making money is the be-all and end-all of existence. Which brings us back to the discussion that we’ve been having on many threads—-show the greedy rich how they can make $$$ from going green, and you will get their attention. Tax carbon now!


      • I agree with your sentiment about ethics or values. That should be our first priority, not money. We can’t ignore practicalities, but we can’t be a slave to money either. In slight defense of Berry, he does say “stewardship”. It gives me the impression that he needs to stand behind the cover of “money or practicality” to defend the stewardship value. I would like to see things changes to values first, then figure out how we do it. Thats real ethical leadership. That is what we are lacking. We need to stand up and be counted and do whats right, no matter what.

    • skeptictmac57 Says:

      The supposed Republican ideal is competition and free trade so that the better solution rises to the top.But while they ostensibly embraced that for business,they reject the same idea for competition in ideas. Going back at least as far as the 70’s they decided that party unity and strict adherence to dogma was the best strategy to win elections,and those who did not toe the line were either out or quickly brought back into the fold (looking at you John McCain). It does work to some degree,and has confounded their opponents,but it has also come at a cost to them,and to the nation.I now am seeing cracks in that bulwark,and hope to hell that it crumbles like the Berlin Wall…and soon!


  3. Great job, Peter. Way to go.

  4. rayduray Says:

    Re: ” Rep. T.J. Berry is also a self-described “green champion.””

    Hmm, I do not understand what is so green about biofuel exploitation. We have a lot of advocacy for this out here in Oregon where forest slash is viewed as a potential means of boiling tea kettles tied to generators.

    But as someone who has planted trees in clear cuts, I can attest that there is a world of difference for future generations of trees, corn stalks, or gardens if the damn soil has some organic content or is stripped down to “mineral soil”. Which is exactly what Rep. Berry is proposing, i.e. to strip mine plant material and turn it into atmospheric CO2 while starving the soil of essential nutrients, mulch and the basic ingredients of future top soil.

    I find it aggravating that the green community can be so blind to such a basic concept that planet earth is a closed, finite system and that when you meddle with it, you can change it for the worse forever.

    A prime example of what asinine exploiters we are is that the Romans strip-mined their cedar forests for triremes (battleships), transforming many a hillside from a verdant paradise to a rocky gullied desert that have not recovered in 2,000 years. Madness. We have a long history of callous disregard for the health of this planet. The Romans could understand modern Republicans perfectly well. And vice versa.

    Richard Attenborough hints at our exploitative ways in and around the Mediterranean Sea in this fine series:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_First_Eden

    • dumboldguy Says:

      For once, an ON topic comment from Ray. I agree with him 100%, particularly that we cannot “mine” the soil without eventually doing serious damage. We have already done much damage with our food agriculture and “harvesting resources” such as timber, and IMO biomass is just another downhill slope.

      We need to get away from using carbon fuels, period, and the sooner the better.

      (and his insertion of “politics” via “Romans and modern Republicans” is the way politics should be used on Crock—-good job, Ray)


    • I don’t understand whats so green about some biofuels either. We don’t want a situation where biofuels becomes an excuse to create more slash. FYI, many biofuels do not fit into the long run renewables goals. Take a look at Jacobson, he says no. EROI is too low for many including ethanol, for now. And some biofuels compete with food. On the other hand, landfill methane should be gathered and burned, that is a total win. Not all biofuel is alike. It takes thoughtful consideration.


    • What is your opinion of genetically engineered algae as a potential biofuel feed stock?

      When searching “Rep. T.J. Berry climate change (or global warming)”, this recent blog post already tops the Google charts The Missouri Sierra Club Chapter gives him a 13% record on environmental votes. His political web sites don’t publish any position on any environmental issue. We live in interesting times.


  5. Berry’s avowed concerns are disingenuous.  He claims to be worried about price increases for coal, when natural gas has the history of radical price swings… and his program calls for increased dependence on gas.

    “Diversity” is a modern shibboleth.  Who needs “diversity” in energy supplies?  What we need is availability, reliability and cleanliness.  If just one energy source met all 3 criteria, we wouldn’t need anything else.

    • rayduray Says:

      Re: “What we need is availability, reliability and cleanliness.”

      Ah so. You are reminding me of a hook on Harry Shearer’s Le Show. He claims that atomic power (sic) is “safe, clean and too cheap to meter”. Ahem, yeah, right.

      Worthwhile radio/podcast IMO: http://harryshearer.com/le-show/


      • You are reminding me of a hook on Harry Shearer’s Le Show. He claims that atomic power (sic) is “safe, clean and too cheap to meter”.

        I listened to him a few times on KUT.  I got tired of his Marxist orientation very quickly.

        You do know that the “too cheap to meter” comment was made in 1954, in response to a request for blue-sky speculation, and the context of a subscription model was more or less implied?

        When capital cost dominates the total so thoroughly and fuel is such a minuscule fraction (around 0.7¢/kWh), subscription instead of metering makes a lot of sense.  A kilowatt delivered 24/7/365 would cost a whole $5.11/month for fuel.

        Capital cost dominates the price of solar and wind too.  Unfortunately, uncertain kilowatts delivered at the mercy of the seasons and the weather is a lot less useful than 24/7 power… and worth quite a bit less, due to the necessary expenses of backup.  Reliable, W&S are not.  That is why, all-in, they aren’t cheap either… nor are their backups clean.


  6. […] 2014/03/15: PSinclair: In the “Show Me” State: More Conservatives Waking Up to Renewable… […]

  7. andrewfez Says:

    =Do you expect the cost of coal to go up?=

    Behold! Clean Coal! Only 35% as dangerous as the other clean coal we currently abuse whilst costing but a mere $5 billion. It cost the federal income taxpayers a little under $1 billion and $2.8B will be passed on to the customers in rate hikes. It’s deals like these that inspire legislation in windy Kansas that would block any and all programs deemed ‘sustainable’, certainly for the protection of consumers and economy, and never to but service the Koch boys’ nozzles:


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