Renewable Energy Under Attack

RonaFriedBy RONA FRIED, Ph.D.

Last year, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) announced that repealing state renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) would be a high priority, and this year they have set to work, pushing their “Electricity Freedom Act.”

This is serious business. The renewable energy community needs to be aware and fight back.

It’s early in the year, but we’re already seeing legislation move in several states that would repeal or roll back their RPS. While North Carolina would freeze the RPS at current measly levels — 3 percent renewable energy by 2012 — Virginia may try to repeal it altogether. Missouri’s bill would allow existing hydropower power plants to count as renewable energy, which would mean the state’s meager 15 percent RPS would already be met — no solar or wind needed.

And in Ohio, the Public Utilities Commission rejected a proposed 50-megawatt solar project, Turning Point solar farm, which would be the biggest solar plant east of the Rockies. A factory opened there to supply the project’s solar panels, which would have employed 300 people, mostly veterans, and 600 people would have been employed to build the solar farm.

ALEC develops “model legislation” and its members then introduce it in their respective states. It has 2,000 state lawmaker members, who are greatly assisted by Republican control in some 26 states.

The Electricity Freedom Act is written and funded by an ALEC task force that consists of representatives from major oil, gas and power companies, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Koch and Shell.

Renewable portfolio standards are in place in 29 states and Washington, D.C. An RPS requires utilities to source a certain percentage of their energy from renewables by a target date. The RPS is among the most important methods for increasing the share of renewable energy in the United States.

ALEC says that any RPS is essentially a tax on consumers and mandates some energy sources over others.

The Electricity Freedom Act says that wind and solar power are expensive and unreliable and that forcing utilities to use renewables threatens electric-grid reliability and will increase the cost of doing business through rate increases or higher taxes.

ALEC points to studies that claim electric rates will rise up to 37 percent by 2025 in Minnesota, for example, because of its RPS. Who conducted the study? ALEC’s right-wing sister organization, American Tradition Institute. Earlier this year, a memo uncovered that group’s plans for a national PR campaign to turn public opinion against renewable energy.

In reality, studies show that over the past decade, state RPS policies have led to cleaner air, economic development, a more resilient electrical grid and greater energy resource diversity, without significantly affecting electricity rates. Instead, the costs of renewable energy are dropping, as in Michigan, where buying wind energy is almost one-third cheaper than buying electricity from a new coal plant.

ALEC’s anti-environmental agenda also pressures the Environmental Protection Agency to designate palm oil as a renewable fuel, seeks loopholes in disclosure of natural gas fracking chemicals and kills regional climate cap-and-trade pacts. It would eliminate clean air and water regulations, and even attempts to turn public lands over to corporations.

ALEC’s goal is “to do one thing, and that’s to maximize the profits of fossil fuel industries and eliminate renewables from competition,” warns Doug Klopp of Common Cause.

Cap-and-Trade Also Under Attack

ALEC, along with Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, is also working to dismantle the only regional cap-and-trade program left, after managing to terminate the Midwest and Western programs before they even started.

The Northeast cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), has been extremely successful, reducing carbon emissions at power plants 30 percent since 2008 and generating $1.6 billion for the economy, most of which has been spent on energy-efficiency and renewable energy programs.

But now, as the RGGI prepares to lower the emissions cap to keep reducing carbon, there are proposals to raise the cap instead, which would allow emissions to rise again.

Some argue there’s no need for a cap because the rise of natural gas has reduced the use of oil and coal in the North- east. The effort to roll back RGGI is fueled by Americans for Prosperity, which uses ALEC’s legislative template, State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives.

Last year, a judge dismissed the group’s lawsuit designed to force New York to leave the RGGI. Electricity Freedom Act legislation failed in New Hampshire, Maine and Delaware.

We can’t underestimate the power and tenacity of these groups, especially since they are supported by the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry.

Rona Fried, Ph.D., is president of Sustainable Business.com, the online community for green business: daily green business and investor news, green jobs and the green investing newsletter, The Green Investor. Contact Fried at rona@sustainablebusiness.com.

Consult your financial advisor before making any investment.

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