The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently released a report showing that wind and solar power generation outpaced coal and gas in 2014. Wind generation increased by more than any other power source and solar generation more than doubled. Equally impressive, wind energy is dominating new power generation going forward. Out of 20 gigawatts in electricity generating capacity utilities expect to add to the grid in 2015, wind energy will account for 9.8 gigawatts–more than any other energy source. Natural gas comes in second with 6.3 gigawatts and solar third with 2.2 gigawatts. Those three sources combined account for 91 percent of the added capacity.
Perhaps this explains the current “war on renewables” being waged by groups like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the American Energy Alliance. These groups, which have close ties to the fossil fuel conglomerate Koch Industries, are in print and on the airwaves constantly demonizing wind and solar. Even worse, they do this under the pretense of championing conservatism and defending the free-market—not as the special interests shills they really are.
Their attacks often center on the premise that wind and solar are somehow inferior to fossil fuels and that these energy sources only exist because they are being propped up by government subsidies. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the EIA data shows, utilities are more and more choosing wind and solar over coal and gas. Why? Because diversifying their fuel mix with wind and solar helps keep their fuel costs down and their electricity rates more stable.
Fossil fuel prices are very volatile—as anyone who drives a car or truck can attest. They can skyrocket due to events or market conditions anywhere in the world. That is not the case with wind and solar. Even with today’s relatively low coal and natural gas prices, wind is the cheapest energy source for many utilities. It is no wonder that the Department of Energy’s revised Wind Vision Report , which was just released, shows that wind energy in the U.S. can double in the next five years, provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030, and 35 percent of U.S. electricity by 2050. That would be a real boon for consumers, for our nation’s energy security, and for the environment.
This, of course, is the real reason groups like AFP are attacking wind and solar. Their special interest benefactor is worried that utilities are starting to choose wind and solar over traditional fossil fuels and they want to stop the tend, irrespective of what is actually in the best interest of Americans.
The production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy, which expired last year and has not yet been renewed by Congress, is a top target for AFP and other groups in the Koch network of organizations. Yet while they single out the primary tax incentive for wind energy as a travesty to free enterprise, they are completely mum on the plethora of tax breaks and subsidies that go to fossil fuels. Our recent apples-to-apples comparison of the wind PTC and just two of the tax breaks that exclusively benefit natural gas and other fossil fuels, found that gas receives roughly $2 more per megawatt-hour in government incentives than wind would get via the PTC.
The AFP attacks on solar are now focused on preventing something called “net metering,” which allows homeowners who install solar panels to send any excess power back to the grid and get credit on their utility bills for the electricity they add to the grid. There is nothing more free market than that. Yet AFP is pushing policies that would force solar panel owners to waste that excess energy. The big battleground is Florida, where a coalition of traditional conservative groups like CRS, tea party groups, the Christian Coalition and other solar advocates are pushing a ballot initiative that will allow net metering. The coalition is called Floridians for Solar Choice. The opposition to this includes AFP, other Koch groups and some utilities.
The good news is despite all the special interest money and deception trying to derail wind and solar, these energy sources are still growing at a record pace. Real conservatives—those who are not wearing special interest blinders—can easily see the value and potential wind and solar offer. It is time to push back on those who use the cloak of conservatism to advance a special interest agenda that instead of promoting a free market, is actually seeking to rig the market.