Op-Ed by David Jenkins
We have all heard about President Obama’s “war on coal,” but the challenges facing the coal industry are much more complex than the “war” label would imply.
There is a war on energy, but the target is not coal, it is wind and solar energy.
The attack dogs in this war are funded by Koch Industries and include Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance and the American Legislative Exchange Council. They 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.
As recently reported in The News & Observer, AEA is behind an ad campaign in North Carolina to persuade lawmakers to freeze renewable energy requirements for utilities at a paltry 6 percent. The ads absurdly claim that renewable energy is more expensive at a time when wind energy, at 2.35 cents per kilowatt hour, is cheaper than either coal or natural gas.
At the national level, AEA and the other groups have been targeting a wind energy tax incentive known as the production tax credit. They peddle the claim that the PTC is a unique government handout that gives wind an unfair market advantage, when actually the PTC simply levels the playing field.
All energy is subsidized, and while these voices are indignantly protesting the PTC, they remain silent about the fiscal incentives being showered on coal, oil and natural gas, which are greater than what the PTC provides wind.
By advocating an end to the PTC, these groups are not seeking to create a fair energy market but working to maintain a skewed one that is rigged in favor of coal and gas.
If eliminating federal subsidies and letting the market drive energy choices were 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 are 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 in states across the country.
Due to the efforts of ALEC, AFP and allied utilities, proposals have been introduced in nearly two dozen states to either make net metering illegal or penalize solar owners with fees and regulations. Keep in mind that these are the same groups that oppose 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 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. Only courageous and principled conservatives can effectively defend conservatism from such abuse.
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.
It’s time for conservatives to challenge this 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.
David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship based in Virginia.