Backtracking on fracking

Western Maryland is blessed with an enormous amount of cleaner burning natural gas and we need an all of the above approach to energy. I am concerned that there has been a knee-jerk reaction against affordable energy production in our state. Maryland is definitely behind the curve because this administration has decided to politicize the issue rather than take a balanced approach to ensuring we have access to clean and affordable energy sources to power our homes and businesses and grow our economy.

States throughout the country including our neighbors develop their natural gas resources safely and efficiently. Many of these states are realizing an economic boom through gas and oil exploration and are working in concert with groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council to harness these vast resources of domestic energy in an environmentally sensitive way.

Larry Hogan, in response to a WYPR-FM candidate survey, May 2014. (Emphasis mine.)

Three years later, western Maryland is still blessed with an enormous amount of cleaner-burning natural gas, but on Friday Governor Hogan decided it would be better to leave this valuable resource in the ground rather than create jobs and economic opportunities for a section of the state that lags behind the rest of Maryland when it comes to those two very things.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming, though: the temporary moratorium that was in place stemmed from a bill that Hogan allowed to become law without his signature rather than veto it back in 2015. The bill, which as originally introduced was laughably intended to “protect our health and communities,” was amended from a ban extending to 2023 to a prohibition intended to last until October of this year, when the Maryland Department of the Environment was to have regulations in place. But, as Governor Hogan noted in his press conference announcing the new fracking ban, Maryland envisioned the most stringent regulations in the nation – a roll of red tape that would have amounted to a de facto ban if enacted.

And to illustrate the political pressure Radical Green can put on wobbly members of the GOP, bear in mind that the original third reader vote on the 2015 House bill had 45 opposed, but that number whittled down to 33 once the Senate version passed and the House bill (as amended to match the Senate version) went to third reader. The wobblers who changed their votes were Delegates Anderton, Afzali, Beitzel, Carozza, Krebs, Malone, McComas, Miele, Shoemaker, and West. (This list is ten because two Delegates who voted “no” originally were absent the second time, but Afzali changed her vote after the fact to be truly gutless. Interestingly enough, Delegates Anderton, Carozza, Krebs, and Shoemaker all changed back three days later when the Senate third reader came to the House while Delegate Saab opted to join the dark side.) Conversely, the Senate only had two votes correctly in opposition all along, Senators Hough and Ready.

Now we can add Larry Hogan to the list that has wobbled and fallen – this despite a mountain of evidence that hydraulic fracturing, which has been ongoing for over six decades, is safe when done properly. Even the EPA, which put out a final report in the waning days of the Obama administration, noted they found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. Yet many of the circumstances they point out could occur at any chemical plant, and they note:

Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

So should I point out again that over 2 million wells have been hydraulically fractured over the last six decades without incident? It seems to me that past performance should be a very good predictor of future results, particularly as the technology advances. And if you read the report, you’ll note that the uncertainty of cause even extends to those limited, rare incidents blamed – many times falsely – on fracking and most publicized by Radical Green.

No one denies there is risk with hydraulic fracturing – just as there are documented issues with low-frequency noise and impacts on bat population with wind turbines and potential for environmental impact as more and more solar panels are spread over the landscape to significant effect – but the rewards from fracking, as measured by both local economic benefits and the lessening of reliance on foreign energy supplies, have been found to outweigh the risks in nearly every jurisdiction where fracking is possible, while the recalcitrant others (Maryland and New York) have believed the hype over the facts.

While Maryland is a small part of the Marcellus Shale formation that has produced the resurgent energy industry in a region that first benefitted over a century ago from an oil boom – there’s a reason we have motor oil from Pennzoil and Quaker State and it’s not because the brand names are cute – this is a time when the domestic oil and natural gas industry is in a holding pattern. Crude oil prices in the $40-50 a barrel range and a relatively constant balance of natural gas supply and demand means that Maryland missed the boat by about a half-decade in the current cycle, but an increased potential in natural gas exports – coupled with a multi-billion dollar investment in Maryland’s Cove Point facility for LNG exporting that’s slated to come online later this year - means our state would have been in good position to benefit in a few years’ time once natural gas exploration began and delivery infrastructure was put in place. (People tend to forget that part of the equation, too.) But politics, embodied in the baseless fear caused by a noisy environmental lobby, ruled the day Friday.

Allow me to let you in on a dose of common sense: there’s no way in hell Radical Green will give Larry Hogan any credit for what he did on fracking come election time. You can bet your bottom dollar that they will flock to whoever the Democrats end up anointing in their primary because their main goal isn’t a clean environment but to have statists in charge of government. Yes, the rank-and-file who might send a couple hundred dollars to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation every year may really care about the health of the bay, but when the people who benefit most from it are the ones who determine the annual “grade” for the cleanliness of the Bay one has to wonder how much of their thumb is placed on the scale. After all, if the Bay had a grade of A and was pristine H2O, what need would there be for a CBF?

The oil and gas industry doesn’t depend on a government subsidy – they just want a fair and predictable regulatory scheme. But a state which has no problem bending the energy trade by mandating a certain percentage of electricity comes from solar energy and demanding ratepayers subsidize an offshore wind farm seems to have an issue with the source that’s been proven reliable over time and is known as a job creator.

As a ratepayer and voter, I was willing to accept the slight environmental risk of fracking in return for a more prosperous state overall as well as more inexpensive and reliable energy. (And yes, I know that the area in question isn’t one where I live. But if I ever secure a piece of land nearby and someone wants to pay me for the right to use my land to explore for energy resources, I’m glad to oblige. No one has yet assessed the Delmarva Basins on which many of us live for their energy potential.)

In 2014, Allegany and Garrett counties provided almost 1/4 of Larry Hogan’s margin of victory as he carried the duo by 16,466 votes in an election he won by 65,510 votes. Add in adjacent Washington County and that number becomes 35,274 votes, or over half his victory margin. At the risk of losing thousands of votes in that region, Larry Hogan has acquiesced to an environmental lobby that’s not going to give him any credit, any dollars, or any votes for the decision he’s made.

I suppose Larry Hogan thinks he’s got an all-of-the-above electoral strategy, too. But at a time he could have changed Maryland for the better, he instead foolishly chose to surrender to the naysayers.

Earning my presidential vote: energy

The author really didn’t plan it out that way, but I think it worked out well that my usual Tuesday morning column from Marita Noon preceded this particular post, since we share a very similar philosophy insofar as energy issues are concerned. In five bullet points or less, the next President should:

  • Dismantle to the fullest extent possible the Environmental Protection Agency, which was created in 1970. Governmental functions that predated the EPA can be reverted to their original department after a review of their current usefulness.
  • The same goes for the Department of Energy, which was a waste of same since President Carter created it.
  • Eliminate the federal subsidies and carveouts for so-called “green” energy. If wind, solar, and so forth are viable they should be able to stand in the market.
  • On a related note, dispatch with the Renewable Fuel Standard (ethanol mandate), CAFE standards (anti-market regulation), and (coal-industry killing) Clean Power Plan.
  • Finally, walk away from the Paris Climate Agreement. Make the (correct) statement that mankind has little impact on the climate.

This was one for which I could have made about fifteen bullet points. But let’s see what candidates have to say, bearing in mind this category is worth seven valuable points. If you want to see the first parts of this overall exercise before continuing on, feel free to begin here.

Castle: Does not believe in man-made climate change, believes it is a “hoax.”

“I’m for the United States becoming energy independent as quickly as possible, using all of the resources that we have. Coal miners would be very happy with me, I think.” We seem to worry more about our environment than that of the places we get energy from. (Facebook)

Hedges: “We advocate increased research on and development of non-fossil fuel resources, tax breaks for companies engaging in such, and subsidies for consumers wishing to change from fossil fuels to renewable domestic sources of energy.” (party platform)

“(P)ollution abatement projects must balance costs with benefits. We believe that climatic change is an existential threat to civilization, and we will co-operate with other nations in mitigating its effects.” (party platform)

Hoefling: Energy independence is a given if we will simply get government out of the way. We have vast resources, just waiting for us to rein in the radical environmentalists and the out-of-control judges who have empowered them. (Facebook conversation)

Johnson: Protect the Environment. Promote Competition. Incentivize Innovation.

We need to stand firm to protect our environment for our future generations, especially those designated areas of protection like our National Parks. Consistent with that responsibility, the proper role of government is to enforce reasonable environmental protections. Governor Johnson did that as Governor, and would do so as President.

Governor Johnson believes the Environmental Protection Agency, when focused on its true mission, plays an important role in keeping the environment and citizens safe.

Johnson does not, however, believe the government should be engaging in social and economic engineering for the purpose of creating winners and losers in what should be a robust free market. Preventing a polluter from harming our water or air is one thing. Having politicians in Washington, D.C., acting on behalf of high powered lobbyists, determine the future of clean energy innovation is another.

In a healthy economy that allows the market to function unimpeded, consumers, innovators, and personal choices will do more to bring about environmental protection and restoration than will government regulations driven by special interests. Too often, when Washington, D.C. gets involved, the winners are those with the political clout to write the rules of the game, and the losers are the people and businesses actually trying to innovate.

When it comes to global climate change, Johnson and Weld believe that the politicians in Washington, D.C. are having the wrong debate.

Is the climate changing? Probably so.

Is man contributing to that change? Probably so.

But the critical question is whether the politicians’ efforts to regulate, tax and manipulate the private sector are cost-effective – or effective at all. The debate should be about how we can protect our resources and environment for future generations. Governors Johnson and Weld strongly believe that the federal government should prevent future harm by focusing on regulations that protect us from real harm, rather than needlessly costing American jobs and freedom in order to pursue a political agenda. (campaign website)

McMullin: Affordable gas and electricity are important for every American family. From the cost of commuting to the price of groceries, energy expenses are built into every part of our economy. Energy companies have made remarkable advances that create jobs and benefit consumers, yet interference from Washington has prevented American families from reaping the benefits they should. Evan McMullin will roll back the heavy-handed regulations that are hurting consumers while ensuring that we protect the natural environment.

Over the past ten years, there has been a revolution in American energy production; transforming the U.S. into an energy superpower. We are now the world’s leading producer of oil, even ahead of Saudi Arabia. With more oil being produced, prices have come down at the pump. Natural gas prices have also fallen dramatically because of booming American production. Meanwhile, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen because natural gas burns more cleanly than other fuels.

Evan McMullin will make sure that there is a level playing field for all types of energy producers, so American families have lower electricity bills and pay less at the pump. Right now, renewable energy producers receive more than $13 billion per year in subsidies, while fossil fuel producers receive $3.5 billion. Evan would put an end to all of these subsidies, which benefit politically connected corporations rather than American consumers. Evan also opposes state-level renewable energy mandates, which force consumers to purchase expensive electricity from renewable sources, adding to the burden of families who are already dealing with a long-term increase in electricity prices.

Our natural environment is a divine gift and each of us has the responsibility to serve as its steward. There is an important role for the government to play in ensuring that our children and our children’s children have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean parks and forests to play in.

We should also be concerned about the direction of global temperatures, which have risen about 1 degree Celsius over the past 50 years. President Obama’s response to climate change has been to rely on expensive, heavy-handed regulations that put Americans out of work.

Evan McMullin believes that promoting innovation is the most promising way to deal with climate change without placing a heavy burden on the backs of American taxpayers and workers. The right way to promote innovation is to invest in basic research, not to provide loans and grants to politically connected corporations. Our environment will be best preserved when America’s leading minds are focused on the problem, not when government is dictating the answers.

The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate change policy is the Clean Power Plan, whose implementation has been blocked by the Supreme Court. The plan will force dozens of power plants to close and destroy tens of thousands of jobs. The annual cost of implementation will be more than $8 billion. The administration also signed the Paris Climate Agreement, whose implementation would lead to annual economic losses of $40 billion per year if its goals were accomplished via regulation.

Evan opposes the Clean Power Plan because he believes we can protect the environment without causing so much economic devastation. He would reject a regulatory approach to pursuing the goals of the Paris accord, focusing instead on innovation.

The natural gas boom in the United States has already shown how innovation can benefit both the environment and the economy. Since the beginning of the gas boom, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States have fallen back to the levels they were at in the mid-1990s. This happened not because of government planning or regulation, but because the private sector made technological breakthroughs that increased our access to cleaner natural gas.

Together, we have an opportunity to create jobs, save money for hard working families, and protect the environment. (campaign website)

**********

I’m relatively disappointed that Darrell Castle hasn’t seemed to pay a lot of attention to this issue, as it certainly is influenced with a proper reading of the Constitution. On the surface he does well, but not to the extent where he would get a high score. 3 points.

In listening to and reading about Jim Hedges, he noted there were places where the Prohibition Party was far more “progressive” in an attempt (misguided, in my opinion) to draw younger voters. This is one area where that philosophy certainly applies, and “more of the same” is not good for our nation when it comes to energy policy. No points.

I feel the same way about Tom Hoefling as I do Castle: a nice approach on a broad scale, but more specifics would be nice. 3 points.

Gary Johnson gets it, sort of. But the problem is that he is conceding key points of the argument to the other side by leaving open-ended the contention that government is essential to provide “reasonable” environmental protection. Given that, one could make the case that everything we have adopted over the 46 years since the EPA came into being is “reasonable” because some bureaucrat thought it so. I think the government should get out of the free market, too – but I have outlined a number of concrete steps on my bullet point list above. Where are his? 2.5 points.

Despite his misplaced “concern” about global temperatures, I actually believe Evan McMullin has the best overall approach and philosophy. No, it’s not perfect, but on balance I think he would certainly consider addressing much of what I would like to see done. In this category he shines compared to the competition. 5.5 points.

We will see if the candidates recover when it comes to the next category, social issues.

Under a new name, the same old ruse

June 20, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Back in 2013 I wrote about a company called Ethical Electric, noting that the electricity supplier was charging a premium to help out progressive causes. Well, the other day I received a solicitation from a group called Clean Energy Option and after a little digging I found out it was Ethical Electric that was doing business as (d/b/a) Clean Energy Option. Seems to be less than ethical to change their name, but it’s likely a marketing thing.

Yet thanks to that 2013 piece I wrote for Watchdog Wire, I found out that Ethical Electric was charging 10.14 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) at the time, which was a fair-sized premium over the 8.89 cents per kWh Delmarva Power (my utility) was charging back then. That 14% difference meant the average bill would be about $12.60 higher per month for an average home that used 900 kWh monthly. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure I would cry foul if my electric bill was going up $150 a year, since that’s what it translates to.

It just so happened that the Clean Energy solicitation followed my latest Delmarva Power bill by a couple days so my bill was handy. Over the last two-plus years, my Delmarva Power rates haven’t changed a whole lot as the “rate to compare” was 9.01 cents per kWh. In 2 1/2 years I’ve endured an annual rate increase far less than 1% as the total hike was 1.35%. (I also found out in researching this piece that I can get even lower rates by switching my supplier to another of several companies that are in that business. Some are “green” companies like Clean Energy Option, most are not.)

On the other hand, the teaser rate for Ethical Electric’s Clean Energy Option has swelled to 11.6 cents per kWh, which is a rate hike of 14.4% overall and about 6% per year. Most likely this rate will jump again after the three-month special rate ends – after all, what business would promote a higher initial cost? The premium that was once 14% has now doubled to 28%, despite the fact people are bending over backwards to install new solar farms and wind turbines around the region. As Clean Energy Option euphemistically puts the answer to the question “What will happen to my electricity bills?”:

In short, supporting new renewable energy development costs a little more than delivering polluting energy. That’s because the energy you are choosing is better for you and the planet.

(“Better for you” may not be true for a person within sensing range of the low-frequency sound emitted by wind turbines, but I digress.)

There’s obviously something at work here to drive the cost of “regular” electricity down while wind and solar continue to increase. I suspect that something is the low cost of natural gas, which is used more frequently as an energy source to create electricity and is relatively cheap. Ironically, this economic fact is doing almost as much damage to the coal industry as Obama’s EPA regulations.

So don’t be fooled to the tune of $23 a month or nearly $280 a year. Keep the money in your pocket and stick with what is most reliable. Or, if you really want to put that money to work, use it to support elected officials who will stand up to the environmentalist lobby and remove these silly mandates and carveouts for the otherwise unsustainable green energy racket.

The stampede for higher rates

Back on Tuesday I promoted Marita Noon’s most recent column on social media with the promise to do a Maryland-centric follow up “If I think about it this week.” (I planned to all along, but sometimes I forget so I figured I better cover myself.) Anyway, the passage that piqued my interest was this one:

In California, where (billionaire and liberal Democrat political backer Tom Steyer) has been a generous supporter of green energy policies, he helped pass Senate Bill 350 that calls for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. California’s current mandate is 33 percent by 2020 – which California’s three investor-owned utilities are, reportedly, “already well on their way to meeting.” It is no surprise that California already has some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Analysis released last week found that states with policies supporting green energy have much higher power prices.

In doing research for the monoblogue Accountability Project, which I am in the process of completing now, I stumbled across two bills which dovetail nicely with both this article and another recent commentary by Noon regarding solar power mandates and incentives. I’ll tackle the latter issue first.

For several years the state of Maryland has mandated a certain percentage of electrical power be derived from renewable sources, with a proposed new version of the law (HB1106/SB921)retaining the 13.1% share required for 2017 but increasing the carveout for solar energy from 0.95% to 1.15%. This bill also proposed that the share of both renewables and solar power increase at an accelerating rate, eventually ratcheting up the requirements to 25% and 2.5%, respectively. While that would be great news for the solar industry, it would be bad news for consumers – according to the information provided with these bills the increase in monthly electric bills to an average consumer if this measure is enacted could be as much as $3.06 per month by 2020. However, Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services cautions (page 7 of the Fiscal and Policy Note) predicting this increase can only be “for illustrative purposes” because of all the factors involved.

The reason behind the rate increases is the payment to the state called the Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP), which also is affected by the bill. The proposal actually would decrease slightly the ACP for all renewable energy sources except solar from 4 cents to 3.75 cents per kilowatt-hour, or, in a more practical term, from $40 per megawatt-hour (MWh) to $37.50 per MWh. (An average home is considered to use 1 megawatt-hour of electricity per month.) It also gives utilities a temporary break on the solar energy carveout, where the fee for a shortfall would decrease from a scheduled $200 per MWh in 2017 and 2018 to $195 and $175 for 2017 and 2018, respectively. The fee would increase in the out years, however.

When the Fiscal Note predicts that the state itself would incur an additional $2.2 million in electrical costs by 2021, it’s obvious that this proposal would be a costly one for consumers. At this point the bill is in limbo, as it was passed by both the House of Delegates and Senate but has not been signed or vetoed yet by Governor Larry Hogan.

Now let’s turn to the most recent commentary from Noon, where she notes California will mandate 50 percent renewables 14 years hence. Unfortunately, Maryland is not that far behind them as they just enacted SB323, which will take effect in October. Instead of letting this silly notion that our little state can actually do something about climate change by reducing our energy consumption expire – as it would have with no action - this bill instead maintained a 25% by 2020 mandate and increased the mandated energy reduction to 40% by 2030. As an analysis Noon used in her piece shows, Maryland is among the states with the highest electricity bills and follies such as these are a reason why.

Don’t get me wrong: I am definitely for energy efficiency, but it should be in terms of consumer choice rather than government fiat. Those who create and pass the laws rarely embark on any sort of dynamic cost/benefit analysis for their policies, so in this case they’re not considering the effect on ratepayers and job creators in balance with the very dubious pie-in-the-sky notion of affecting our climate. (After all, if it was once warm enough to have the polar expanse of Greenland actually be green, as it was around the turn of the previous millennium – well before the Industrial Revolution or the car-happy society we inhabit now – then how much effect do we really have?) We can hardly predict with any certainly the weather two weeks from now, so why should we trust the accuracy and inerrancy of a climate forecast for 2050 when it’s used as an excuse for confiscatory policy that indirectly benefits those making the forecast?

As I brought up the monoblogue Accountability Project earlier, it shall be noted that the votes on both these bills will be used for this year’s mAP. It’s a shame that just 39 Delegates out of 141 and only two (yes, two!) Senators out of 47 have the potential for getting both these votes correct. Maryland has a relatively powerful environmental lobby thanks to its straddling of Chesapeake Bay, but these were cases where the state’s budding attempt to be more business-friendly and hopefully end its economic reliance on big government should have held sway. While Governor Hogan erred in signing the climate change folly, he can do a more concrete favor for businesses and ratepayers by vetoing HB1106/SB921 and creating a proposal to sunset the ACP for next year’s session.

And while we are at making energy policy, I encourage Governor Hogan to follow the lead of his friend and cohort New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and remove Maryland from the membership rolls of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Utilities (and their ratepayers) will thank him from getting us out from under that wealth transfer boondoggle.

Is the green’s “Daddy Warbucks” helping the planet or himself?

May 17, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

Any comprehensive review of green energy and its politics and policies has to include the name of wealthy liberal Tom Steyer – who has been called the environmental movement’s new “Daddy Warbucks.”  Having made his billions from his tenure atop Farallon Capital Management – much of it from coal projects around the world – Steyer apparently had an environmental epiphany and now wants to atone for his past sins by trying to save the planet from manmade climate change.

He is using his wallet to try to elect candidates who will promote policies and energy plans that agree with him. And that plan is “green.” As I’ve previously reported, he spent nearly $75 million in the 2014 midterms and intends to top that for the 2016 election cycle. Steyer - a long-time donor to Democratic causes - was a 2008 Hillary Clinton supporter. After her campaign failed, he emerged as a bundler for Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. Additionally, Steyer is a Clinton Foundation donor, and last year, at his San Francisco home, he held an expensive fundraiser for Clinton’s 2016 presidential run.

Along with researcher Christine Lakatos, whose Green Corruption File was recently praised on the Michael Savage Show, I’ve repeatedly addressed Steyer’s involvement through our work on President Obama’s Green-Energy Crony-Corruption Scandal. Anytime there is a pot of government money available for green energy, as Lakatos found, Steyer’s name seems to be attached to it. Some of the most noteworthy include: Sungevity, ElectraTherm, and Project Frog – all funded by Greener Capital (now EFW Capital), which is a venture firm that invests in renewable energy, with Steyer as a known financial backer.

Steyer claims to have “no self-interest” in his political activism. The Los Angeles Times quotes him as saying: “We’re doing something we think is good for everyone.” Yet, as Forbes columnist Loren Steffy points out, he is spending his fortune lobbying for “short term political gains” rather than into research and development “aimed at making renewables economically viable.”

While he may say what he is doing is good for everyone, the policies he’s pushing are good for him – not for “everyone.” The Washington Post called him: “The man who has Obama’s ear when it comes to energy and climate change.” In California, where he has been a generous supporter of green energy policies, he helped pass Senate Bill 350 that calls for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. California’s current mandate is 33 percent by 2020 – which California’s three investor-owned utilities are, reportedly, “already well on their way to meeting.” It is no surprise that California already has some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Analysis released last week found that states with policies supporting green energy have much higher power prices. In October, Steyer spent six figures for an ad campaign calling for the next president to adopt a national energy policy similar to California’s: “50 percent clean energy mix in the U.S. by 2030″ – which will raise everyone’s rates.

With Steyer’s various green-energy investments, these rate-increasing plans are good for him but bad for everyone else – especially those who can least afford it. And, it is the less affluent, I recently learned, he’s targeting with predatory loans for solar panels through Kilowatt Financial, LLC, (KWF) – a company that listed him as “manager” on corporate documents. KWF recently merged with Clean Power Finance and became “Spruce.” The financing structure used, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), allows “homeowners to get solar systems at no upfront cost and then to pay monthly for the use of the power generated. Homeowners end up saving on their total electricity use, while financing companies get steady revenue over 20 years.” WSJ, points out, the KWF financing can be offered to “people who wouldn’t be approved otherwise.”

In the KWF model, contracted payments come from homeowners and “create a steady and reliable income stream, part of which is owned by its venture investors, including Kleiner Perkins.” About the arrangement, KWF chairman and Chief Executive Daniel Pillmer said: “Kleiner Perkins will make a lot of money.” Apparently, the money to be made is from selling the loans that are then securitized on Wall Street – much like the “sub-prime” mortgage crisis that offered loans to people who couldn’t qualify with “traditional lenders.” KWF’s website brags: “We support financing terms for almost every customer and provide ways for dealers to participate in the pricing process to generate even more approvals and create even lower consumer rates.” KWF offers “Instant Approvals, even for customers with lower credit scores” and “Same-as-Cash and Deferred Payment Offers.” In these types of payment plans, a low rate is usually offered in the beginning and increases retroactively if all the terms of the loan are not met.

In this model, the homeowners don’t actually own the solar systems – which means KWF receives the benefit of the federal tax incentives, such as the 30 percent federal “Investment Tax Credit,” designed to benefit the owner of the solar system.

It is practices like this that have drawn the ire of Congress. Several congressional Democrats sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that warned about the similarities between the solar industry and what led to the subprime mortgage crisis: “easy initial financial terms, increased demand and a rapidly expanding industry.” These factors create a high risk potential that could, ultimately, be harmful to consumers. Similarly, Republicans sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that noted pressure from Wall Street is reportedly leading companies who use “potentially deceptive sales tactics” – which doesn’t sound like it is something that is “good for everyone.”

Yet, it is these very types of finance products, promoted by Steyer’s Kilowatt Financial that Greentech Media reports are “doing well.”

While Steyer claims to want to give everyone a “fair shake,” his pet policies increase costs for everyone, and offer a hand-shake for Wall Street. Steyer and his billionaire buddies win, “everyone” else loses. This is how the green-energy crony-corruption scandal works: the political pals profit while the taxpayers get fleeced.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Earth Day’s anti-fossil fuel focus could plunge millions into green energy poverty

April 19, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

Friday, April 22, will mark the 47th Earth Day. You may think it is all about planting trees and cleaning up neighborhoods. But this year’s anniversary will be closer to its radical roots than, perhaps, any other since its founding in 1970. Considered the birth of the environmental movement, the first Earth Day took place during the height of America’s counterculture era. According to EarthDay.org, it gave voice to an “emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns on the front page.”

We did need to clean up our act. At that time “littering” wasn’t part of our vocabulary, The air in the Southern California valley where I grew up was often so thick with smog we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains.

Thankfully, that has changed.

Look around your community. You’ll likely see green trees, blue skies, and bodies of water sparkling in the sunshine. With the success of the environmental movement, its supporters, and the nonprofit groups it spawned, had to become ever more radical to stay relevant.

Environmentalism has changed.

The morphing of the movement may be most evident in Earth Day 2016 – which some are calling “the most important Earth Day in history.”

This year, on April 22, in a high-level celebration at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the Paris Climate Agreement will officially be signed. Thirty days after its signing by at least 55 countries that represent 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the agreement will take effect – committing countries to establishing individual targets for emission reductions with the expectation that they will be reviewed and updated every five years.

While news reports of Earth Day 2016 will likely depict dancing in the streets, those who can look past the headlines will see a dire picture – one in which more than 10 percent of a household’s income is spent on energy costs; one of “green energy poverty.”

To meet the non-binding commitments President Obama made last December in Paris, he is counting on, among many domestic regulations, the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

Last week, on the Senate floor, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, delivered remarks in advance of Earth Day on the unattainability of the U.S. climate commitments. He said: “The Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of the president’s promise to the international community that the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent.” It would “cause double digit electricity price increases in 40 states” and “would prevent struggling communities from accessing reliable and affordable fuel sources, which could eventually lead to poor families choosing between putting healthy food on the table or turning their heater on in the winter.”

The Heritage Foundation has just released a report on the devastating economic costs of the Paris Climate Agreement, which it calls “a push for un-development for the industrialized world and a major obstacle for growth for the developing world.” Because global warming regulations “stifle the use of the most efficient and inexpensive forms of electricity, businesses as well as households will incur higher electricity costs.” The report concludes: “restricting energy production to meet targets like those of the Paris agreement will significantly harm the U.S. economy. Bureaucratically administered mandates, taxes, and special interest subsidies will drive family incomes down by thousands of dollars per year, drive up energy costs, and eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. All of these costs would be incurred to achieve only trivial and theoretical impacts on global warming.”

Real world experience bears out the both Inhofe’s observations and the Heritage Foundation’s conclusions.

Germany is one of the best examples of green energy poverty as the country has some of the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction programs that offer generous subsidies for any company producing green energy. Based on an extensive study done by green energy believers in 2014, I addressed the program’s overall result: raised costs and raised emissions. I stated: “After reading the entire 80-page white paper, I was struck with three distinct observations. The German experiment has raised energy costs to households and business, the subsidies are unsustainable, and, as a result, without intervention, the energy supply is unstable.” At that time, I concluded: “The high prices disproportionately hurt the poor, giving birth to the new phrase: ‘energy poverty.’”

More recently, others have come to the same conclusion (read here and here). On April 13, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) opined: “Germany’s 16-year-old Energiewende, or energy transformation, already has wrecked the country’s energy market in its quest to wean the economy off fossil fuels and nuclear power. Traditional power plants, including those that burn cleaner gas, have been closing left and right while soaring electricity prices push industries overseas and bankrupt households. Job losses run to the tens of thousands.” Meanwhile, emissions over the past seven years have increased. Last month, Mike Shellenberger, President, Environmental Progress and Time magazine “Hero of the Environment,” tweeted: “people really want to believe good things about Germany’s energy shift, but … its emissions rose.” WSJ concludes: “The market distortions caused by overreliance on expensive but undependable power already have pushed German utilities to rely more on cheap and dirty coal-fired power plants to make up the shortfall when renewable sources can’t meet demand.”

Germany is not alone.

The U.K., according to Reuters, is facing “fuel poverty.” The report states: “The government is also under pressure to curb rising energy bills with 2.3 million of Britain’s 27 million households deemed fuel poor, meaning the cost of heating their homes leaves them with income below the poverty line.” Another account covers the U.K.’s cuts to solar subsidies, saying: “The government says the changes were necessary to protect bill payers, as the solar incentives are levied on household energy bills.”

The Netherlands, which is already behind in meeting its green energy targets, has, according to the Washington Post, had to build three new coal-fueled power plants – in part, at least, to power the high percentage of electric cars. Additionally, the country has hundreds of wind turbines that are operating at a loss and are in danger of being demolished. A report states: “Subsidies for generating wind energy are in many cases no longer cost-effective. Smaller, older windmills in particular are running at a loss, but even newer mills are struggling to be profitable with insufficient subsidies.”

Bringing it closer to home, there is über-green California – where billionaire activist Tom Steyer aggressively pushes green energy policies. Headlines tout California has the most expensive market for retail gasoline nationwide. But, according to the Institute for Energy Research, it also has some of the highest electricity prices in the country – “about 40 percent higher than the national average.” A 2012 report from the Manhattan Institute, states that about one million California households were living in “energy poverty”- with Latinos and African Americans being the hardest hit. With the Golden State’s headlong rush toward lower carbon-dioxide emissions and greater use of renewables, the energy poverty figure is surely much higher today.

This week, as you hear commentators celebrate “the most important Earth Day in history” and the global significance of the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement, remember the result of policies similar to CPP: green energy poverty. Use these stories (there are many more) to talk to your friends. Make this “Green Energy Poverty Week” and share it: #GEPW.

We, however, do not need to be doomed to green energy poverty. There is some good news.

First, the Paris Climate Agreement is non-binding. Even Todd Stern, U.S. climate envoy, acknowledged in the Huffington Post: “What Paris does is put in place a structure that will encourage countries to increase their targets every five years.” While the requisite number of countries will likely sign it before the election of the next president, the only enforcement mechanism is political shaming. Even if it was legally binding, as was the Koyto Protocol, Reason Magazine points out what happened to countries, like Canada and Japan, which “violated their solemn treaty obligations” – NOTHING. The Heritage report adds: “History, however, gives little confidence that such compliance will even occur. For instance, China is building 350 coal-fired power plants, and has plans for another 800.”

Then there is the legal delay to the implementation of the CPP – which, thanks to a Supreme Court decision earlier this year, will be tied up in courts for at least the next two years. Inhofe stated: “Without the central component of (Obama’s) international climate agenda, achieving the promises made in Paris are mere pipe dreams.”

“President Obama’s climate pledge is unobtainable and it stands no chance of succeeding in the United States,” Inhofe said. “For the sake of the economic well-being of America, that’s a good thing.”

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Rooftop solar companies will only play if the game is stacked in their favor

April 5, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

The past couple of weeks have highlighted the folly of the energy policies favored by left-leaning advocacy agencies that, rather than allowing consumers and markets to choose, require government mandates and subsidies. Three major, but very different, solar entities – that would not exist without such political preference – are now facing demise. Even with the benefit of tax credits, low-interest loans, and cash grants that state and federal governments have bestowed on them, the solar industry is struggling.

We’ve seen Abengoa – which I’ve followed for years – file for bankruptcy.

Ivanpah, the world’s biggest solar power tower project in the California desert, is threatened with closure due to underperformance.

Then there is SunEdison, the biggest renewable energy developer in the world. It’s on the verge of bankruptcy as its stock price plunged from more than $30 to below $.50 – a more than 90 percent drop in the past year.

All of these recent failures magnify the solar industry’s black eye that first swelled up nearly five years ago with the Solyndra bankruptcy.

Worried about self-preservation, and acting in its own best interest – rather than that of consumers specifically, and America in general – industry groups have sprung up to defend the favored-status energy policies and attack anyone who disagrees with the incentive-payment business model. Two such groups are TASC and TUSK – both of which are founded and funded by solar panel powerhouses SolarCity and SunRun with involvement from smaller solar companies (SolarCity recently parted ways with TASC).

The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) is run by the lead lobbyists for the two big companies – both have obvious Democrat Party connections.

Bryan Miller is Senior Vice President, Public Policy & Power Markets at Sunrun (a position he took in January 2013) and is President and co-chair of TASC (May 2013). His LinkedIn page shows that he’s worked for the National Finance Committee for Obama for America and was Finance Coordinator/Field Organizer for Clinton-Gore ’96. He’s also served as s senior political appointee in the Obama Administration and ran an unsuccessful 2008 bid for election to Florida’s House of Representatives, District 83.

Co-chair John Stanton is Executive Vice President, Policy & Markets at SolarCity. In that role, he, according to the company website, “oversees SolarCity’s work with international, federal, state and local government organizations on a wide range of policy issues.” Previously, Stanton was Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – the national trade association for industries that support the development of solar power – with which he oversaw legal and government affairs for the association. There he played a pivotal role in the 8-year extension of the solar investment tax credit. He was also legislative counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clinton administration.

A news report about the founding of TASC states: “First and foremost, the group will work to protect net-energy metering (NEM) rules in the 43 states that have them.”

On March 25, the Wall Street Journal reported: “two dozen states are weighing changes to their incentives for rooftop solar…incentive payments have been the backbone of home solar firms’ business model.” In the past several months, Nevada and Hawaii have ended their NEM programs. TASC has responded with lawsuits. In Hawaii, TASC’s case has already been dismissed with a report stating: the judge’s “ruling in favor of the Defendants has eviscerated TASC’s claims.” Last year, Louisiana capped its “among the most generous in the country” solar tax credit. Arizona Public Service was the trailblazer in modifying generous solar policies when, in 2013, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a fixed charge for solar customers.

As one of the first states to challenge the generous NEM policies, Arizona is still a battleground. That’s where TASC formed another group: TUSK - which stands for Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed. Lobbyist and former U.S. Congressman Barry Goldwater, Jr. was brought in to give a Republican face to the industry’s advocacy. TUSK even has an elephant, the Republican mascot, as part of its logo. The TUSK home page states: “Republicans want the freedom to make the best choice and the competition to drive down rates” – true, but a core value of the Republican Party is allowing the free markets to work rather than governments picking winners and losers.

While registered in Arizona, TUSK has recently been active in other states – including Nevada, Oklahoma, and Michigan.

The reoccurring theme in the TASC/TUSK campaign is to connect the word “kill” with “solar” – though the NEM modification efforts don’t intend to kill solar. Instead, they aim to adjust the “incentive payments” to make them more equitable. However, without the favors, as was seen in Nevada, rooftop solar isn’t economical on its own. Companies refuse to play when the game is not stacked in their favor.

TASC and TUSK are just two of the ways the rooftop solar industry – also known as a “coalition of rent seekers and welfare queens,” as Louisiana’s largest conservative blog, The Hayride, called them in the midst of that state’s solar wars – is trying to protect its preferential policies. It has other tricks in its playbook.

In addition to the specific industry groups like TASC, TUSK and SEIA, third party organizations like the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) are engaged to intimidate public officials and academics. EPI, run by Gabe Elsner, is considered a dark money group with no legal existence. It can be assumed to be an extension of what is known as the Checks & Balances Project (CB&P) – which was founded to investigate organizations and policymakers that do not support government programs and subsidies for renewable energy. CB&P has received funding from SolarCity. Elsner joined CB&P in 2011 – where he served as Director - and then, two years later, left to found EPI – which C&BP calls: “a pro-clean energy website.” EPI produces material to attack established energy interests and discredit anyone who doesn’t support rooftop solar subsidies. I have been a target of Elsner’s efforts.

Then there is the Solar Foundation – closely allied with SEIA and government solar advocacy programs – which publishes a yearly report on solar employment trends across the country. Solar employers self-report the jobs numbers via phone/email surveys and the numbers are, then, extrapolated to estimate industry jobs nationwide. Though the reports achieve questionable results, threats of job loss have proven to be an effective way to pressure state and federal lawmakers to continue the industry’s favorable policies – such as NEM.

Together, these groups have a coordinated campaign to produce public opinion polling that is used to convince politicians of NEM’s public support. Such cases can be found in Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Kansas. They gather signatures from solar advocates and use them to influence legislators and commissioners. They engage in regulatory and rate proceedings – often creating, as I’ve experienced, an overwhelming presence with mob-like support from tee-shirt-wearing, sign-waving advocates. They run ads calling attempts to modify solar’s generous NEM policies a “tax” on solar and, as previously mentioned, attack utilities for trying to “kill solar.” If this combined campaign isn’t fruitful, and NEM policies are changed, lawsuits, such as those in Hawaii and Nevada, are filed.

This policy protection process may seem no different from those engaged by any industry – as most have trade associations and advocacy groups that promote their cause. Remember “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” and “Pork, the other white meat”? Few are truly independent and self-preservation is a natural instinct.

Yes, even the fossil fuel industry has, for example, the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the National Mining Association, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. And there are advocacy groups who support various limited-government, free-market positions, as Miller recently accused.

The difference is that fossil fuels provide, and have been providing, America with efficient, effective, and economical energy. Its abundance has lowered costs for consumers and increased America’s energy security. Advocates are not fighting for special favors that allow this natural resource to survive, but are rather attempting to push back on new rules and regulations aimed at driving it out of business.

By comparison, the solar advocacy efforts are, as acknowledged by TASC: “First and foremost, the group will work to protect net-energy metering (NEM) rules,” as without them – and the other politically correct policies – rooftop solar energy doesn’t make economic sense. Because rooftop solar power isn’t efficient or effective, its major selling point is supposed savings that are achieved for a few, while costing all tax- and rate-payers.

With the potential of a change in political winds – remember the solar supporters all seem to be left-leaning, big government believers who want higher energy prices – the campaign for America’s energy future is embedded in the presidential election.

Will big government pick the winners and losers, or will free markets allow the survival of the best energy sources for individual circumstances?

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Trying to make winners out of losers

Commentary by Marita Noon

By now, most people probably know about one of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s biggest campaign gaffes to date: “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” As soon as I heard it, I tweeted: “Imagine a presidential candidate running for office based on putting people out of work?”

I wasn’t the only one shocked by the uncharacteristic clarity of her statement. Lacking the usual political-speak, her comments were all the more surprising in that they were not made at a fundraiser in billionaire environmental donor Tom Steyer’s posh San Francisco living room. They were made in Ohio – coal country, where coal production in 2015 was down 22 percent – at a nationally televised CNN town hall and just hours before the important state’s primary election.

In response, Christian Palich, President of the Ohio Coal Association sent this: “Hillary Clinton’s callous statements about coal miners, struggling under the weight of a hostile administration, are reprehensible and will not be forgotten. The way Secretary Clinton spoke so nonchalantly about destroying the way of life for America’s coal families was chilling. Come tomorrow, or next November, Ohioans in coal country will vote to keep their jobs and not for the unemployment line.”

US News reports that Democrats in the coal states of Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio have tried to “distance themselves from Clinton’s comments.” Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Clinton ally who handily won his party’s primary election for Senator, called her slip, “unartful.” Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who, last April, endorsed Clinton, took issue with her comments and contacted her campaign.

Facing the backlash, and in damage-control mode, Clinton sent a letter to Manchin: “Simply put, I was mistaken.”

But was she? I don’t think so.

Though her comments may have been “unartful” and, arguably, poorly timed, I believe they reflect private conversations and campaign strategy. It may be no coincidence that rumors of President Obama’s tepid support for Clinton – though the White House denies endorsing her – surfaced after her killing coal comments.

First, it is clear that Clinton needs President Obama’s endorsement. She needs him to generate excitement for her lackluster campaign – something Democrat voters are not feeling for her as they did for him. She needs his campaign machine to get out the votes.

But, he needs her just as much – his legacy hangs on her election. Because so much of what he’s done has been by executive action, his legacy can just as easily be undone – as every remaining Republican candidate would likely do.  Obama is, reportedly, committed to ”a hard campaign of legacy preservation.” He is ready to “raise money to fill Democratic coffers and target the key communities that would make up a winning coalition for the party, including blacks, Latinos, educated single women and young voters, to encourage them to go to the polls.”

Following the voluntary climate agreement in Paris, Politico stated: “Barack Obama wants to be remembered as the president who saved the world from climate change.” For this legacy to stick, all of his anti-fossil fuel policies must stay intact. To get his endorsement, a Democrat presidential candidate must embrace what he started and promise to “build upon President Obama’s legacy of environmental protections and climate action,” as Clinton has.

While Obama frequently claims to support an “all of the above” energy policy, actions speak louder than words. From his 2009 stimulus bill throwing billions at speculative green energy projects, his killing coal efforts, his stand that we can’t drill our way to low gas prices, his rejection of the Keystone pipeline, and his threat to veto a bill to lift the oil export ban – just to name a few – he obviously meant “none of the below.”

The White House denies a “war on coal.” In December, after the Paris climate agreement was signed, former Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, Heather Zichal, defended Obama’s green platform: “Nobody’s screaming that their energy bills are on fire; jobs have not been lost.”

Bill Bissett, President of the Kentucky Coal Association called Zichal’s comments: “insulting and inaccurate.” He told me: “The Obama Administration and its allies have an intentional blind spot to the economic and social damage that their anti-coal policies are causing in the United States and especially in coal country. The top coal producing states in our nation not only benefit from the extraction of coal, but all of us benefit greatly from having low kilowatt-per-hour rates. But that economic advantage is eroding as Obama does everything in his power, and against the will of Congress, to move the United States away from coal production and use.” He added: “More than 8,000 Kentucky coal miners have lost their jobs since Obama took office and countless other Kentuckians have lost their livelihoods through indirect and induced job loss due to his anti-coal agenda. And, yes, our electricity rates are increasing in Kentucky as our country moves away from coal.”

“Ms. Zichal and the administration can spin it any way they like but no one outside of their fringe enviro friends is clamoring for their energy policies,” said Mike Duncan, President of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

While much of the electricity price increases associated with the Obama Administration will only be seen later, the fact is, according to an Energy Information Agency data set, the increase in retail electricity prices since 2008 is 12.8 percent.

Clinton’s anti-coal comments got all the press. But she didn’t stop there. Almost under her breath, a few sentences later, she added: “We’ve got to move away from coal and all of the other fossil fuels” – more pandering for Obama’s much needed (and, so far, withheld) endorsement.

But how realistic is the Democrat’s goal of moving away from coal and all the other fossil fuels?

“Unlikely,” according to new research from the University of Chicago. The authors wanted a different answer. Like Clinton, and Obama, they believe fossil fuel use is driving “disruptive climate change” that will lead to “dramatic threats to human well-being” and a “dystopian future.” Reading the 22 pages of the report on their findings, one can almost feel their dismay.

Yet, after discussing “supply theory” – which posits the world will run out of inexpensive fossil fuels – they state: “If the past 35 years is (sic) any guide, not only should we not expect to run out of fossil fuels anytime soon, we should not expect to have less fossil fuels in the future than we do now. In short, the world is likely to be awash in fossil fuels for decades and perhaps even centuries to come.” Complicating matters, the authors acknowledge: “a substantial penetration of electric vehicles would reduce demand for oil. Provided that the supply curve for oil is upward sloping (as it is in almost all markets), this drop in demand would translate to lower oil prices, making gasoline vehicles more attractive.”

Then, on “demand theory” – the economy will stop demanding fossil fuels as alternatives become more cost competitive – they lament: “In the medium-run of the next few decades, none of these alternatives seem to have the potential based on their production costs (that is without the government policies to raise the costs of carbon emissions) to reduce the use of fossil fuels below these projections.” Additionally, they conclude: “Alternative sources of clean energy like solar and wind power, which can be used to both generate electricity and to fuel electric vehicles, have seen substantial progress in reducing costs, but at least in the short- and middle-term, they are unlikely to play a major role in base-load electrical capacity or in replacing petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines.”

While the authors support “activist and aggressive policy choices…to drive reductions in the consumption of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions,” they reluctantly admit the proposed solutions are not apt to be the answer they seek. “Even if countries were to enact policies that raised the cost of fossil fuels, like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, history suggests that technology will work in the opposite direction by reducing costs of extracting fossil fuels and shifting their supply curves out.”

Perhaps, before Clinton – who accuses anyone who doesn’t agree with her climate alarmist view as ignoring the science – makes mistakes, like declaring that she’ll put coal miners and coal companies out of business, she should check the science behind her claims to “move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels.”

Making her March 13 comments seem even more foolish, the following days cast a shadow over the specter of funding more speculative solar power, as she’s proposed to do. Three stimulus-funded solar failures made big headlines.

On Wednesday, March 16, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ)  announced that the massive $2.2 billion ($1.5 billion in federal loans according to WSJ, but other research shows more) Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System may be forced to shut down because it has failed to produce the expected power. What it has produced: “fetched about $200 a mega-watt hour on average during summer months,” while “power from natural-gas plants went for $35 a mega-watt hour on average in California’s wholesale market.”

On the same day, SunEdison’s troubles worsened. After the company acquired stimulus-funded First Wind last year, it became “the leading renewable energy developer in the world.” Now, its “mounting financial woes” resulted in another delay to the filing of its annual reports. The company’s stock, according to WSJ, has “lost 67% over the past three months and 91% over the past year.” It “slid another 16% to $1.73 in premarket trading.”

The next day, March 17, the New York Times declared that Abengoa, the Spanish company hailed as “the world leader in a technology known as solar thermal, with operations from Algeria to Latin America” has gone from “industry darling to financial invalid.” I’ve written repeatedly on Abenoga – which is on the verge of becoming “the largest bankruptcy in Spanish corporate history.” Note: Abengoa was the second largest recipient of U.S. taxpayer dollars – more than $3 billion - from the green energy portion of Obama’s 2009 stimulus package.

It appears Clinton’s energy policies are aimed at trying to make winners out of losers. How can she help it? That is what the Democrat Party is trying to do with her.

Hopefully, voters know better. But then, as the University of Chicago’s study’s closing words remind us: “hope is too infrequently a successful strategy.”

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

“Green” – the status symbol the affluent can afford that costs the poor

March 17, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

Researchers have found that some buyers are willing to pay for environmentally friendly products because those products are “status symbols.” A report in the Atlantic states: “Environmentally-friendly behaviors typically go unseen; there’s no public glory in shortened showers or diligent recycling. But when people can use their behavior to broadcast their own goodness, their incentives shift. The people who buy Priuses and solar panels still probably care about the environment – it’s just that researchers have found that a portion of their motivation might come from a place of self-promotion, much like community service does good and fits on a résumé.”

With “green” having become a status symbol, the affluent can afford it. Yet, their desire to “broadcast their own goodness” actually results in higher costs to those who can least afford it.

Solar power is a great example. On the website for SunRun, a solar panel leasing company, through the story of customer “Pat,” they even encourage the “green status symbol” as a sales feature. While Pat may be happy with her solar panels and “hopes that all her neighbors will go solar, too,” her “green status symbol” costs all the utility’s customers who mostly can’t afford to “go solar.”

As I’ve written on many times, the idea of solar leasing works because of tax incentives and a system called “net metering.” First, those tax incentives are paid for by all taxpayers. Anytime the government gives something away, everyone pays for it. Net metering is a little harder to understand. In short, the utility is required by state laws to purchase the extra electricity generated by rooftop solar panels at the full retail rate – even though they could purchase it at a fraction of the cost from the power plant. As more and more people sign up for these programs, it increases the overall cost of electricity. Remember, however, those with solar panels could have a zero dollar utility bill but they are still using electricity from the utility company at night and generate additional customer service costs such as transmission lines. Ultimately, the cost of electricity goes up on the bills of non-solar customers. Due to this “cost shifting,” many states are changing the net metering policies so solar customers cover the unpaid grid costs. However, as has happened recently in Nevada, the revised programs change the economics and make it unprofitable for companies to operate in the state.

This is clear to see in overall rising electric costs – about 3 percent per year according to the Institute for Energy Research – despite the main fuel costs (coal and natural gas) being at all-time lows.

Earlier this month, Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) addressed another interesting angle: “Green energy can’t compete with $30 oil.” The only way for “green” energy to survive, it says, is: “by the government forcing people to buy them and jacking up electricity and heating prices to families and businesses.”

A new study from the University of Chicago, referenced by IBD, concludes that for an electric vehicle to be cheaper to operate than the modern internal combustion engine, “the price of oil would need to exceed $350 a barrel.” The IBD states: “without massive additional taxpayer subsidies to companies such as Tesla, the price of oil would have to not just double or triple, but rocket more than 10-fold before battery-operated cars make financial sense.”

Yet, sales for the Tesla Model S, the International Business Times (IBT), reports: “actually rose 16 percent last year, in part because they serve as status symbols or appeal to the environmental concerns of well-to-do drivers.”

On March 11, in the Wall Street Journal, columnist Holman Jenkins writes: “Voters should be mad at electric cars.” Why? Because, as he explains: “how thoroughly Tesla’s business model depends on taxpayer largess.” Jenkins states: “Tesla’s cars have status cachet, yes. Even some middle-class customers might be attracted, notwithstanding low gas prices, as long as helped by an enormous dollop of taxpayer favoritism.” As he lays out for the reader the “absurdity of their subsidy regime,” Jenkins concludes: “And you wonder why, on some level voters sense that our political class has led America into a dead-end where the only people doing well are the ones who have subsidies, regulation and political influence stacked in their favor.”

Alternative fuels have also taken a hit with low oil prices. According to IBT: “corn ethanol and algae-based diesel need oil prices at around double today’s levels – or higher – to compete with fossil fuels.”

Another fixture of the “green” social movement that has taken a toll in the low oil-priced environment is, surprisingly, recycling. Calling recycling a “$100-billion-a-year business,” National Public Radio reporter Stacy Venek Smith, points out: “Plastic is made from oil, so when oil gets cheap, it gets really cheap to make fresh plastic. When the price of oil gets really low, using recycled plastic can actually be more expensive because it has to be sorted and cleaned.” In Salt Lake City, KUTV reported: “Many businesses are finding it cheaper to manufacture new plastic than to use recycled materials.” In Montana, according to the Philipsburg Mail, plastics are no longer being picked up for recycling “because the price per pound was so low, it didn’t cover the cost of gas and mileage to make the trip.”

The problem is international. Germany has a reputation as a recycling model with a goal of 36 percent of its plastic production coming from recycled materials and “German consumers finance recycling via licensing fees, which are added on to the price of the products they purchase,” says Deutsche Welle, Germany’s leading organization for international media development, in a report titled: “Low oil prices threaten Germany’s plastics recycling.” It states: “For manufacturers with eyes firmly fixed on costs, opting for cheaper new plastics would be the more economically attractive option.” However, many companies, wanting to appear “environmentally friendly” will still “pay up for recycled plastics, despite higher costs” – meaning higher consumer prices for the plastics they produce.

Addressing the recycling problem, The Guardian states: “Recycling only works when there’s someone on the other side of the equation, someone who wants to buy the recycled material.”

Fortunately for the recycling industry, but bad for consumers who pay higher prices for plastic products, the Philipsburg Mail concludes: “A lot of Fortune 500 Companies still want to purchase recyclables to meet sustainability goals.”

Despite claims of “green prosperity” that implies such policies can “fight poverty and raise living standards,” the opposite is true. Everyone pays more – even those who can least afford it – so the elites, seeking green status symbols, can feel good and appear to be community leaders.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

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