WHY OUR UTILITY COMPANIES ARE FIGHTING WIND AND SOLAR POWER TOOTH AND NAIL
SAME ANSWER AS WITH NEARLY ALL CONSERVATIVE PUBLIC POLICY: CORPORATE PROFITS!
As our Ryanair 737-800 began it’s descent into Frankfurt, Germany, (we’d snagged a couple of seats on an incredibly cheap, 6:00 AM flight from Venice) looking out the window I was amazed at the literally hundreds of wind turbines dotting the landscape. Sure, I’d recently read that Germany had achieved an 85% level of generating electricity from alternate sources, and I was beginning to see why. In the fields and on the hillsides dotted with villages giant turbines were nestled among fields of wheat, across ridge lines and in cow pastures as far as the eye could see. What impressed me was how the wind turbines didn’t seem to disrupt any of the agricultural operations on the ground. Manicured fields – it was June and the crops were in full growth mode – slipped around the bases of the turbines some of which were the largest I’d ever seen. Cows grazed undisturbed with giant vanes revolving slowly over their heads. As we descended further I began to notice the bright reflections of solar panels on the roofs of houses in every town we were flying over. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “so this is how Germany has done it. Impressive.”
Back here in the U.S., Jimmy Carter was our first and last energy conscious President until the election of Barack Obama. One of Ronald Reagan’s first acts as President was to remove the solar panels that Carter had installed on the White House roof. Don’t forget. This was back in 1980, nearly 40 years ago. We then entered a three decades long drought of alternate energy research and application that lasted until the Obama Administration. Funding research and development, instituting subsidies and tax breaks, ramping up domestic production of shale oil and natural gas, Obama succeeded in breaking the long stranglehold that imported oil had on us, helped immeasurably by the historic low price of crude oil. Naturally, the Trump Administration is working to undermine Obama’s success in the shift to alternate energy sources as the war on all things liberal continues.
One would think that pretty much everyone would support the spread of alternate energy sources since it makes us more independent from imported oil, results in a cleaner environment and creates many jobs in a sector that has the potential for enormous growth in the future. Unlike Germany’s 85% usage figure, the use of alternate energy in the United States stands at around 14%. California, that Blue State Red State conservatives love to bash as a liberal cauldron of evil, produces about 29% of its energy from alternate sources, the highest of any state. Sure, there are downsides to the production of alternate sources – shale oil production and fracking are problematic and China, the world’s largest producer of solar panels, controls the world’s solar panel production and prices to the detriment of domestic production – but I don’t think one could argue that the shift from dependence on oil to other sources of energy is anything but a good thing.
However, there is one sector of our society who doesn’t see this shift as a good thing: our public utility companies. Yes, that’s right. The folks who actually deliver electricity to your house or apartment or trailer do not think that this shift is a good thing. Why? Simple answer: Profits. Most utility companies had instituted “buy-back” policies for their solar panel consumers who produced more electricity than they consumed in an effort to expand the installation of home solar panels just like you see in so many other countries around the world. It’s called “net metering.” One would like to think that our utility companies would be working with us to increase the spread of alternate energy usage. But they are not. They are actively working against us.
Here’s a few excerpts from a Sunday New York Times article about what’s happening.
“Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900 percent by one estimate.
That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2 percent, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.
But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.
Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations. Their effort has met with considerable success, dimming the prospects for renewable energy across the United States.”
“We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,” Jeffrey Ostermayer of the Edison Electric Institute, the most prominent utility lobbying group, said in a statement.”
"The same group of investor-owned utilities is now poised to sway solar policy at the federal level. Brian McCormack, a former top executive at the Edison institute, is Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s chief of staff. The Energy Department did not make Mr. McCormack available for an interview.
In April, Mr. Perry ordered an examination of how renewable energy may be hurting conventional sources like coal, oil and natural gas, a study that environmentalists worry could upend federal policies that have fostered the rapid spread of solar and wind power.
Charged with spearheading the study, due this summer, is Mr. McCormack.”
“In Florida last year, the utility industry contributed more than $21 million to an ultimately unsuccessful ballot initiative to roll back net metering. A leaked audio recording appeared to reveal that the utility campaign deliberately misled pro-solar voters into voting for an anti-solar policy, a tactic one consultant called “political jujitsu.””
So these efforts are pretty much what one would expect from conservative officials – and Trump – who are forever taking the sides of bug business over the rest of us. Just look at the Obamacare replacement bill passed by the House of Representatives and now being considered in the Senate if you have any doubt about whose side Republicans are on. And although I don’t want to sound like a simpleton in this matter, why would public officials who are supposed to be working for us want to derail the continued shift to alternate energy sources, dry up literally hundreds of thousands of good jobs that have been created in the solar and wind energy fields and want to punish us homeowners for trying to help the nation achieve a more balanced energy platform and a healthier atmosphere? Quite simply, it makes no sense.
But here’s the bottom line for the public utilities:
“The prospect of more customers “fully exiting from the grid,” the group said, “raises the potential for irreparable damages to revenues and growth.”
Since then, the utilities have targeted state solar power incentives, particularly net metering, which credits solar customers for the electricity they generate but do not use and send back to the grid. That offsets the cost of electricity they may still buy from their local utility during cloudy days and at night, reducing or even eliminating their electricity bills.
Utilities argue that net metering, in place in over 40 states, turns many homeowners into free riders on the grid, giving them an unfair advantage over customers who do not want or cannot afford solar panels. The utilities say that means fewer ratepayers cover the huge costs of traditional power generation.”
This is akin to saying that folks who reduce their monthly consumption of electricity by beefing up their home’s insulation, installing double-glazed windows, installing low-flow toilets and point source water heaters are being unfair to the rest of electricity consumers who don’t do these things. Is there something I’m missing here? Those of us who take energy consumption seriously, who spend our money improving the energy efficiency of our homes, take action to improve the country’s energy usage are being unfair to those who don’t? Really? But this is the convoluted public policy exosphere we currently live in: profits above people.
It’s these kind of perverted public policy efforts that we must fight against. Until we are able to counter the “big business profits at all costs” attitude of Republicans (and too many Democrats) we are going to be subjected to the same insanity by our public utilities who are working to kill the solar and wind progress we’ve made over the past few years. It makes no sense – common or otherwise - unless your position is “profits above people.”
Take Care Folks! It’s Gonna Get Rougher!
Here’s the full NYT article: