Fossil Fuels vs. Renewables, State-by-State


fossil fuel vs renewable energy

Originally published on Cleantechnica.

A new report called “Attacks on Renewable Energy Policy by Fossil Fuel Interests 2013-2014” contains a detailed rundown of the money trail behind the fossil fuels vs clean energy battle. That’s not exactly new news to those of you following clean tech legislation, but before you file this away under D for Dog bites man, consider that the report was generated by the Energy & Policy Institute.

The Energy & Policy Institute (EPI) is the same outfit that produced “ALEC Exposed” and “Manufacturing Doubt,” which among other projects gives it a solid track record for following the money from lobbying organizations to the impact on federal legislation. The latest report digs deep into the emerging threat to clean energy policy on the state level.


Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s start with the obvious question: if fossil fuels are such a great deal for the American consumer, why does that sector require any particularly aggressive assist by the government?

We mean a lobbying assist over and above the usual taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuels. That includes  favorable leasing deals, R&D support, and infrastructure support as well as consideration in tax law, which the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed since its inception.

That also includes a long history of excuse from a full accounting of the local and regional environmental, economic, and public health impacts of fossil fuel operations, a situation that is only just beginning to be remedied.

In short, until recently fossil fuels enjoyed a long and relatively cushy period as the lynchpin of American energy policy, despite the looming potential for competition from alternative sources (here’s an interesting piece on the hemp threat, for example)

As noted up front in Attacks on Renewable Energy Policy, that potential has finally burst through, and the fossil fuel sector is facing its first real challenge in the marketplace in the new millennium.

The cost of solar power and wind power have been sinking with almost frightening speed, even though the market is still in its infancy, and further improvements are expected in solar cell tech and “soft costs.” In addition, major domestic resources, namely geothermal, next/next-generation biofuel (we mean algae), offshore wind power, and ocean power, have not yet been tapped.

It’s also worth noting, in terms of national energy policy, that the US military has been aggressively leading the charge into clean energy from all angles, including advanced energy storage solutions that have already been flagged as a game-changer in the electric utility industry.


Fossil fuels vs clean energy

The full report is well worth a read (available online and as pdf download). For those of you on the go, it focuses on the disinformation campaign funded by Koch Industries, among others.

That campaign is aimed at building public support for letting the “free market” decide which type of fuel comes out ahead, conveniently ignoring the fact that, in most states, there is no free market. As the report describes:

…individuals cannot choose from which company to buy their electricity or from what source their electricity comes. In many locales, Public Utilities Commissions regulate monopoly utility companies in a closed marketplace.

The report sees the greatest single threat to the status quo in the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and net metering policies adopted in some states, which have been “sparking massive investment and deployment of clean energy technologies.” RPS regulations generally call for utilities to gradually increase their sourcing of renewable energy, and net metering enables renewable energy owners to sell electricity to their utility.

It’s no surprise, then, that RPS and net metering are the main target of the campaign, part of which has been engineered by the lobbying organization The Heartland Institute, which happens to be a familiar player in the long and devastating public disinformation campaign in promotion of tobacco.

Connecting the dots, Heartland is also known for its climate denial activities, and it is a member of the overwhelmingly Republican-affiliated ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a Koch-funded organization that promotes model state legislation in the interests of its members.

For those of you familiar with ALEC, that’s another Dog bites man filing, but the real usefulness of the new report is that it connects the dots between funding sources and other, less well known lobbying groups, most of which are members of the State Policy Network.

Here’s a nugget that the report unearthed, in the form of a grant application from The Beacon Hill Institute for a public information campaign, which was submitted before (emphasis added) the organization had researched its topic:

Success will take the form of media recognition, dissemination to stakeholders, and legislative activity that will pare back or repeal [the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (or RGGI)].

Here’s one from a Heartland fundraising document:

Contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate [change] policies.

Stay tuned.


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  • Bi-Polar Bear

    Good article, Jo. And while what it says is true, don’t forget that such shenanigans have been part of the American scene for a long, long time.

    Case in point? The ban on hemp was vigorously promoted by Standard Oil and DuPont. Their influence extended to the highest reaches of government and resulted in hemp being banned from America for the 80 years, during which time the oil and plastics folks have raked in trillions in profits.

    Recall that Henry Ford actually constructed a car with hemp based body panels – lighter and stronger than steel.

    People always bleat about the wonders of capitalism, but the truth is, capitalism has never actually been tried in the US, where cronyism trumps Adam Smith’s “unseen hand” every time.

    • egogg

      Some markets start out as capitalistic (or at least mainly so) and then devolve into crony BS every time. I think it’s human nature.

      • Bi-Polar Bear

        Actually, you are correct, sir. Just as Thomas Picketty’s new book shows that capitalism tends to enrich the few at the expense of the many. But it’s only because money buys influence and influence allows the model to be contorted out of all recognition.

        All of which just goes to show that, indeed, the United States has the best government money can buy…..