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ALEC Looking to Turn the Clock Back on Renewables

RP Siegel | Thursday November 15th, 2012 | 11 Comments

It’s often been said that the best defense is a good offense. So if you are a conservative organization that enjoys generous support from various fossil fuel companies, such as Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, and the Koch Brothers, and your side has just lost the election, you know that progressives are going to be pushing forward a rejuvenated clean energy agenda. So, what do you do?

Well, if you are ALEC, the corporate “bill mill” otherwise known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose sole function is to ghost-write win-at-all-costs draft legislation that is little more than a set of amoral wish lists for their corporate sponsors – the clear choice is to go on the offensive. That is exactly what they have done, and this latest move of theirs is about as offensive as you can get.

The Electricity Freedom Act is nothing more than a shameless attempt to repeal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) legislation in any and all of the 29 states (plus D.C.) in which it exists, for the simple reason that doing so would increase sales of fossil fuels – let the climate and the people who depend on it, be damned.

Not that it’s likely that such efforts will pass, but every time these folks crawl out from under their well-appointed rock, it is usually under the cover of darkness when they hope that no one is looking. It would be good if someone was looking.

You may recall that there was a mass exodus of companies divesting themselves of any affiliation with ALEC last year, including Coca-Cola, Amazon, McDonalds, Johnson & Johnson among others, out of sheer embarrassment at the group’s extreme positions. You would think that would leave those hangers-on withering in the blinding glare of public disdain. But you would be wrong. As dependable as dusk, the group has managed to keep some 2,000 state legislators on their membership rolls. State legislative seats can be purchased fairly cheaply these days, given the relatively small voter turnout, small margins of victory and even smaller salaries paid to those elected. This is one of the major reasons why the Mitt Romneys of the world want more power given to the states.

The Electricity Freedom Act is based on the false premise that renewable energy is more expensive than conventional sources of power. It completely ignores the fact that even with the distorted economics that discount the many serious impacts of fossil fuels as “externalities,” the cost of wind power, as an example, is now one third cheaper than power from a new coal plant.

As newer legislation designed to let the economics to catch up with the science comes online in the form of carbon taxes or cap and trade programs (like the one that just began this week in California), this price difference will become even more pronounced.

Still, groups like this one, determined to keep their heads in the sand, would not know about that. Instead, they say, “Forcing business, industry, and ratepayers to use renewable energy through a government mandate will increase the cost of doing business and push companies to do business with other states or nations, thereby decreasing American competitiveness.”

Their hope is to spread fear through misinformation about Renewable Portfolio Standard legislation, much as folks like them have done with Agenda 21. But the fact is energy prices have not gone up in the decade since RPS legislation has been introduced, and air quality has improved significantly.

President Obama said in his victory speech, “The recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.”

But if you are determined to do everything possible to avoid going forward, what better way than to start pulling backwards as hard as you can? Who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a “compromise” that will leave things exactly where they were.

In addition to the Electricity Freedom Act, ALEC has resolutions opposing limits on CO2 emissions, blocking the enforcement of numerous federal protections, including clean air and water laws, safeguards for mine workers, rules that prohibit the sale of tobacco to children, and even protection from discrimination, as well as a whole array of public health measures for things like lead poisoning, that they would prefer to be rid of.

Of course, they claim to be doing all this in the name of freedom. The problem is, these people define freedom in much the same way that criminals do. That is to say, they want law enforcement and government regulations to leave them alone so that they can go about their dirty business unhindered. As to whether the activities of ALEC’s sponsors can be considered criminal or not, well that depends entirely on the outcome of their lobbying activities. If they are successful, the new laws will be written with loopholes big enough to drive trucks filled with toxic waste through and they will be “just doing their business.”

[Image credit: K.G. Hawes: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


▼▼▼      11 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Darus

    Pretty Amazing…

  • Verne_J_Hostan

    The assertion that new wind energy is a third less expensive than new coal energy isn’t supported by credible sources. Producing electricity with wind is approximately 30% higher, and the inherent variability of wind forces require secondary systems to integrated with the wind farms. WInd power has some significant benefits, particularly the absence of GHG emission, but it does not provide a holistic solution to our energy needs. It’s critical that these discussions are grounded in fact if the green energy community is to be regarded with respect. The underhanded and selfserving propoganda cited to ALEC aren’t the exclusive domain of the conservative forces…

    • RPSiegel

      Verne, Here is a source that shows wind at about the same price as existing coal based on levelized cost (LCOE), Any new coal plants would have to meet stricter pollution standards, raising the price considerably. Of course, this is based on traditional pricing which does not take into account the true cost of coal to society. That would at least double the coal cost again. http://cleantechnica.com/2011/05/01/cost-of-wind-power-kicks-coals-butt-better-than-natural-gas-could-power-your-ev-for-0-70gallon/ Here is an earlier piece I wrote citing the pros and cons of wind. http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/06/wind-power-pros-cons/ I would also add that the idea of secondary systems needed to backup wind through spinning reserves is largely myth. Given geographical distribution of wind resources (the wind is always blowing somewhere) and advanced controls that are rolling out in support of smart grid, plus a new generation of highly responsive gas-fired systems like GE’s flex-efficiency that was designed from the ground up to work with renewables, that problem is essentially solved.

  • Hayley Prychun Rodgers

    If this “The Electricity Freedom Act
    is based on the false premise that renewable energy is more expensive
    than conventional sources of power. It completely ignores the fact that
    even with the distorted economics that discount the many serious impacts
    of fossil fuels as “externalities,” the cost of wind power, as an
    example, is now one third cheaper than power from a new coal plant.”
    is true, why aren’t people flocking to wind energy? When they introduced these mandates and started using alternatives my bills when up, quite a bit. Personal experience says they aren’t cheaper.

    • RPSiegel

      I don’t know what your personal experience is or what your local utility is charging you, there could be a lot of reasons why your bills may have gone up. But the fact is, wind power grew by over 30% in 2011. http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy/wind_energy.html Some people might call that flocking.

  • Verne_J_Hostan

    The study you cite doesn’t reflect what the majority of credible studies conclude about wind power. Have a look at multi-organization research such as reason.org/files/thelimitsofwindpower.pdf. By utilizing selection bias in your references, you ultimately do a disservice to clean energy initiatives – stooping to the same tactics as the climate change deniers on the far right. In our recent election, poll of poll approaches were markedly more accurate than single source references. Do your readers the favor of more robust investigation.

    • RPSiegel

      Verne,
      If you think Reason.org, a self-proclaimed Libertarian website, is more credible on the question of energy costs than the Michigan Public Utilities Commission, then I have nothing more to say to you about this.

      • Verne_J_Hostan

        We can likely agree that determining the most efficacious energy policy is
        one of the most critical decisions we are facing; it requires thorough
        and rational analysis. Your ad hominem and sarcastic response
        discourages reasoned discussion.

        The study I cited is well reasoned and factually grounded – it
        reflects empiric knowledge; the UK, as only one example, has had very
        disappointing results from its aggressive wind energy development. Wind
        is inherently an intermittent power source which necessitates duplicate
        and proximate energy production. It’s standard practice to discount
        theoretical wind production capacity by 60-85% – which means building
        300MW of wind farm for every 100MW of demand.

        We must not confuse enthusiasm with reality – our country simply can’t afford the consequences of significant missteps.

  • Verne_J_Hostan

    We can likely agree that determining the most efficacious energy policy is one of the most critical decisions we are facing; it requires thorough and rational analysis. Your ad hominem and sarcastic response discourages reasoned discussion.

    The study I cited is well reasoned and factually grounded – it reflects empiric knowledge; the UK, as only one example, has had very disappointing results from its aggressive wind energy development. Wind is inherently an intermittent power source which necessitates duplicate and proximate energy production. It’s standard practice to discount theoretical wind production capacity by 60-85% – which means building 300MW of wind farm for every 100MW of demand.

    We must not confuse enthusiasm with reality – our country simply can’t afford the consequences of significant missteps.

    • RPSiegel

      I’m all for a reasoned discussion on energy policy, but I don’t think that the folks at ALEC are. To me, a reasoned discussion means a level playing field and an objective interest in what is best for society as a whole, not for some narrow interest with money on the line. A level playing field means taking into account the differences between a new technology and one that has been around for decades. It takes time for new technology to mature, to work the bugs out, become optimized and to reduce costs with scale-up. And wind power is not just a new technology, it’s a new business model, and you could even say a whole new industry. And despite of all that, wind has enjoyed enormous success, according to my sources.

      So who are you going to believe? You have your sources, I have mine. Mine are government and utility industry based. Yours is a conservative political organization with notorious ties to the fossil fuel industry. Are they interested in what’s best for everyone? Follow the money? There is far more money in fossil fuels than there ever will be in wind. You sell a windmill once and that’s it. Fossil fuels are based on the drug dealer model. Get them hooked and they will keep paying forever.

  • apostasyusa

    When the wind blows and turns our turbines or when the sun shines on our solar plants, we turn down the non-renewable base-load generators. It’s huge for our environment.

    As the power system economic model becomes more reliant on renewables the energy sector profits become more distributed and that is what pisses these huge energy corporations off. they want it all. greed rules their thought process, not care for anything else.