Comment: Conservatism hijacked for war on renewables

Source: By David Jenkins, The Hill • Posted: Monday, August 31, 2015

We have all heard about Obama’s “war on coal,” but in reality, the challenges facing the coal industry are much more varied and complex than the “war” label would lead us to believe.

There is a war on energy being waged, but the target is not coal, it is renewable energy, namely wind and solar.

The attack dogs in this war—all of which have ties to Koch industries and include Americans for Prosperity (AFP), American Energy Alliance (AEA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—frame their attacks as a defense of the free market and fiscal conservatism. Yet even a cursory examination of their positions reveals they’re not defending the free market, but attempting to protect the fossil fuel industry from competition.

A top target has been a wind energy tax incentive known as the production tax credit (PTC). These groups peddle the false claim that the PTC distorts the free market and tilts the playing field unfairly for wind.

The fatal flaw in their argument is that all energy is subsidized, and while these shills are indignantly protesting the PTC, they remain silent about the many goodies being showered on coal, oil and natural gas—which are greater than what the PTC provides to wind energy.

By advocating an end to the PTC, these groups are not seeking to create a level playing field, they are working to maintain a skewed one and keep the market rigged in favor of coal and gas.

If eliminating federal subsidies and letting the market drive energy choices was their true goal, those crusading against the wind PTC would be working just as hard to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. They’re not.

The same bias is trumping free market principles in their attacks on solar energy.

People who install solar arrays on their homes or businesses make use of something called net metering. Net metering allows owners of solar panels to sell the energy they produce to the utilities. This prevents energy from being wasted and provides a fair return for the investment in solar panels, allowing individuals to be more energy self-sufficient.

These benefits from net metering sound like a good thing for the free market and liberty, right? Barry Goldwater Jr. thinks so, as do the Christian Coalition, various tea party groups, Conservatives for Energy Freedom, and Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. But not AFP or ALEC, both groups are relentlessly attacking net metering across the country.

Due to the efforts of ALEC, AFP and some utilities, legislation has been introduced in 21 states to either make net metering illegal or penalize solar owners with fees and regulations. Keep in mind that these are the same groups who oppose any kind of regulation or fees on fossil fuel interests.

These groups seek to bolster certain federal subsidies by attacking others, rig the market in the name of preserving it, pick winners and losers under the pretense of opposing such things, stifle freedom while pretending to promote it, and encourage waste and inefficiency. All of this while pretending to be conservative and support free market principles.

This special interest hijacking of the conservative label comes at the expense of real conservative values—and our nation’s long-term energy security.

As President Reagan liked to say “facts are stubborn things.” Despite the efforts of Koch surrogates to undermine wind and solar, these renewable sources of energy are gaining market share at a record pace—which is the real reason behind this war on renewable energy.

Why are utilities adding so much wind and solar? Because diversifying their fuel mix with wind and solar helps keep their fuel costs down, their electricity rates more stable, and the grid more reliable.

There is no conservative creed that argues against such diversification and in favor remaining overly dependent on finite fossil fuels. Only the imprudent whims of short-sighted special interests would take America down that path.

It’s time for genuine and principled conservatives to defend conservatism from this misappropriation.

A good start is to challenge the Koch-sponsored war on renewables and advance a fact-based, prudent, and truly conservative energy policy that is in long-term the best interest of all Americans—not just the narrow interests of a few.

Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship