The Conservative Embrace Of Solar Power

goldwaterRepublican politician and prodigy Barry Goldwater Jr. strongly supports solar power, which makes him a lonely figure on the right side of the political spectrum. Goldwater Jr. has now publicly opposed an idea by Arizona’s utility service to charge up to $100 a month to customers who use solar panels, an idea Goldwater calls a “solar tax.”

Barry Goldwater is a conservative through and through. From 1975 to 1983 Goldwater Jr. was a Republican Member of the U.S House of Representatives, a major supporter of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1980, and drafter of The Privacy Act of 1974. A model Republican in many regards, and Goldwater Jr. is now the chairman of Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed or TUSK.  TUSK was launched in March to fight Arizona’s largest electric utility Arizona Public Service on the issue of what is being called the “solar tax”. In recent history, the Republican Party has not been exactly been friendly to the alternative fuel movement — which is why Goldwater Jr.’s support for solar power and his creation of TUSK is rather eye opening and exciting.

It turns out that Goldwater Jr. is not the only Republican breaking the Republican anti alternative fuel stereotype. In Georgia, Tea Party activists and the Sierra Club formed what they have coined the “Green Tea Coalition.” The Green Tea Coalition wants to diversify the American energy portfolio, have fair competition, and not depend on fossil fuels from nations where we are in conflict. Just like Goldwater Jr., the Green Tea Coalition has become a vocal supporter of the benefits of solar power.

So what is going on here? Well, the argument from conservatives is that the utility companies are regulated monopolies with rates are set by bureaucrats. Conservatives see this bureaucratic regulation as an attack on the free market economy and another example of big government interfering in business. So when Arizona’s utility service wanted to charge $100 a month to customers who use solar panels and are still connected to the grid, this is seen by conservatives as a “solar tax”. Basically, some Republicans are asking why people should pay when they are not using the power from the utility.

That all said, the utility company has a valid reason for charging this tax. The conflict focuses on net metering subsidies (money) that utilities give rooftop solar owners for the excess energy they feed back onto the grid. As solar power has increased in popularly, the utility companies have argued that customers who use solar panels shift the cost of maintaining the energy grid to the non-solar rate customers. Supporters of the so called “solar tax” found that for the typical residential customer the cost of making the electricity accounted for only about 45% of the bill. The remaining 55% of the bill goes to distribution, transmission, and maintenance of equipment.

Both the views are compelling; utility companies are saying no free rides if you are on the grid and Goldwater Jr. is saying stop hampering the free market and no new taxes. Determining which argument is correct I think comes down to your ideology – be that political or not. As for the solar tax? Goldwater and his allies managed to bring the proposed fee down to just $5 a month for solar panel owners, a major win for renewable energy advocates.

What cannot be argued is that Barry Goldwater Jr., a model conservative, supports an alternative fuel source in the form of solar panels. This could be a big deal down the road, and could open the door for more alternative energy support from the right side of the aisle. Just don’t your hopes too high too fast.

Source: The NY Times | Image: Gage Skidmore

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail.

 

Andrew Meggison

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor's Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master's Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison