THINK SOLAR POWER IS THE WAY OF THE FUTURE?
NOT IF OUR PUBIC UTILITIES AND THE KOCH BROTHERS GET THEIR WAY
A few years ago, I contacted our local electric utility company, Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) about what it would take to install solar panels on the roof of my house. Well, it didn’t go well. Too many weird rules, too costly even with rebates and Federal subsidies, and I didn’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling from our electric company in dealing with them. Fast forward a couple of years and low and behold it seems that there are forces at work that don’t really want us to free ourselves from the electric grid nor reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.
In fact, solar panel use has skyrocketed since Obama was elected (he ended the defacto “ban” on R&D into alternate energy sources) as the chart below shows.
But in other news, there's this:
Debate over solar rates simmers in the Nevada desert
You might have seen recent news stories about the situation in Nevada, the state that receives the most sunlight of any state on an annual basis with Las Vegas receiving nearly 300 days of sunshine a year. Solar panel installations have increased while electricity prices have declined. Until recently, that is. A PBS Newshour report the other day reported that Nevada – the state that leads the nation in solar capacity (or rather did), employs around 8,800 people and boasts 116 solar companies (or used to) – just declared war on the solar industry and itself. The Nevada Public Utilities Commission (NV Energy) voted to phase out subsidies for residential solar users and increase connection fees dramatically. This, according the Commission, is because non-solar electric users were subsidizing solar uses by some $16 million a year because solar users weren’t paying for connection fees and the infrastructure that non-solar users were paying for. Also, “net metering,” the system whereby utility companies buy back unneeded power from solar power installations, is on it’s way out. I find the "explanation" slightly less than crystal clear. A rough translation: Public utilities have seen the future and it trashes their bottom lines.
There’s no question that subsidies can end (except for the oil industry), agreements made with corporations and monopoly public utilities can change and folks are taking a risk when they deal with any entity where profit is the prime motivation. The actions of Nevada’s Public Utility Commission will basically end the advantage of solar panels in the state with more sunny days than any other state in the union. One couple interviewed on the program stated that their monthly electric bills plummeted from over $400 a month to less than $20 after they spent $40,000 installing solar panels. You can see why the program was popular. But no more. The state's largest solar supplier, SolarCity, laid off 550 people as a result of the Commission’s actions and shuttered their production plant in the state.
There’s something so fundamentally flawed, if not insidious, about this whole business where on the one hand, the nation is continuing to divest itself from coal and oil and move increasingly to alternate fuels and on the other hand, cutting the rug out from under folks who are actually engaged in doing what our national energy policies and practices call for. To me, there is something supremely fucked up about a business model that has this result.
And in more, not all that surprising solar energy news:
And in more, not all that surprising solar energy news:
THE KOCH BROTHER’S DIRTY WAS ON SOLAR POWER
There’s no question that the Koch Brothers have declared war us in their attempts to maintain the profitably of their original core business – oil drilling and supply services. A recent Rolling Stone Magazine article details how, in cooperation with our public utility companies, they are very much trying to derail all attempts to wean the nation from its reliance on fossil fuels and squash the public’s increasing shift to solar generated electricity. The article notes that the price of solar panels has dropped by 80% since Obama took office and the industry is beginning to compete successfully with coal and natural gas on economics alone. So it comes as no surprise that Koch Industries would not be happy to have it’s core business (and business model) undercut and threatened.
Tom Dickerson, the article’s author, uses Florida as a case study. Florida – whose state motto is “The Sunshine State” – receives more sunshine than any other state east of the Mississippi River and is the third best state for rooftop solar potential in the country. So one would think that – like Nevada out west – solar power would be huge. The reality, however, is that it ranks 16th in solar production, lagging behind Northern states like New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. How odd you might think. “It defies logic” says former Governor Charlie Crist (D). “It’s absolutely absurd.” After all Florida – the Sunshine State – is a mecca for northern snowbirds who trek down each winter to bask in the state’s warmth while escaping the snow and cold of northern climes.
So what the hell is going on? Well, it seems that the Florida State Legislature is beholden to Florida’s monopoly power supply company, Florida Power and Light (FPL) - which provides power to 4.8 million Florida customers - and that has enacted policies and laws that, unlike other legislatures that have spurred the development of roof top solar installations around the country, are actually absent or illegal in Florida (The Sunshine State). And how did this happen? Since 2007, Florida’s four largest power companies have contributed at least $18 million to state politicians and have spent at least $12 million on lobbying, employing an average of one lobbyist for every two legislators in Tallahassee. (And we wonder why it is the Federal Government is forbidden by law from negotiating drug prices with Big Pharma.)
In Florida as well as across the nation, the Koch Brothers with the ever-beneficial assistance of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – the same folks who brought us “Stand Your Ground Laws,” “Voter ID Laws,” “Anti-Consumer Laws” in nearly every Red State in the nation – are engaged in a battle to squelch the growing popularity and use of solar power because the spread of alternate energy usage poses a direct threat to their business model. For the Koch Brothers this "model" roughly translates as "Profits at all costs, even human ones!
As Zach Lyman, partner at Reluminait, an energy consulting company in Washington D.C., states, “Few industries are worse equipped to deal with disruption than power utilities. Their profits depend on investments that pay off over a generation or more. Utilities are structured to be in stasis. When you get fully disrupted, you’ve got to find a new model. But utilities are not designed to move to new models. They never were. So they play an obstructionist role."
Bottom line: The Koch Brothers and our utility companies' “Business Models” are not suited to switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. So, as a result, we the people must pay the price and suffer.
And just in case you think that this war on solar is limited to those of us who live in the Free Market Paradise we call the United States of America, I’m about to disrupt your thinking. Just the other day the World Trade Organization voted in support of a U.S. sponsored complaint against India based on India’s “Buy Local" regulations for the production of solar panels:
Really? The United States is threatened by India’s “Buy Local” rules? (PS: Having worked for the U.S. Government for many years, I can attest that every single contract has a “Buy Local” clause in it.) India, with an annual per capita income of $1,250 compared to the U.S. $5,138 is somehow a huge threat to American production of solar panels? But, of course, that’s not the real issue. The real issue revolves around trade agreements. Trade agreements that protect multi-national corporations from competition in some perverse application of Free Market principles, (If you can believe it! Shocking isn't it!)
India had been successfully implementing plans to shift rapidly from dirty climate killing coal to clean solar by building a domestic solar panel production industry, but the U.S. world trade representative and the WTO, working in the interests of multinational corporations, will not allow it.
India's power system, predominantly fueled by coal, is notoriously unreliable, but solar power is coming to the rescue. Locally generated rooftop and industrial scale solar is empowering communities across India while reducing pollution and creating local jobs. But the U.S. trade office took offense that India had buy local provisions to protect their investments in developing their domestic solar power industry and filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO found against India’s buy local provision to provide a reliable market for India's nascent solar power panel production industry. Ironically, the big winner in this case is China, the lowest cost producer of solar panels, not the United States. Moreover, buy local provisions have been used by U.S. states to build up local industries. This case could ultimately be turned against businesses in the United States that benefit from buy local rules if China went to the WTO fight for its manufacturers.
Having personally experienced New Delhi’s suffocating winter time pollution (although much improved of late) I can assure you that shifting to solar power not only will reduce pollution across the nation but will also help keep Indians healthier. Plus, as anyone who has spent a day anywhere in India and experienced electric “power cuts” on a daily basis, you can bet your last dollar than Indians welcome the shift. Why the hell we – our government – would take this action is not only dumb and stupid but defies any semblance of rationality. Of course, just like Koch Industries, I guess people really don’t matter. Profits do.
Have a good day!
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