Solar energy is one of the best and most easily implemented options to reduce our use of fossil Carbon based fuels. Never mind that the sun is only up and strong for part of the day, and is often covered by clouds. If you put a few square meters of solar panels on the roof of a residential or commercial building, you get clean and free (after the investment into the system) electricity thereafter. Clearly, this is an underutilized technology. In recent years there has been a precipitous drop in the cost of implementing solar energy, so it is now economically kinda dumb to not put solar panels on your roof. Worked out over the long term, a properly done implementation of solar can save a home owner hundreds of dollars a year after accounting for the cost of the equipment, installation, maintenance, and permitting fees. And, since part of your energy is coming from non-Carbon based sources, by implementing solar you also save money on those Survivalist Training Courses you might otherwise have to buy for your grandchildren if you expect your progeny to continue to exist in the not-too-distant future.
But every dollar that you save by using solar energy is a sum of money not earned by utilities and the owners of the energy production system, which generally translates into Your Power Company + The Koch Brothers.
So, naturally, the Koch Brothers and various energy utilities have been investing money to make sure that solar is not worth it. One way to reduce the viability of solar to the home owner or small business is to reduce or eliminate the payments that utilities make back to the owner of the solar energy system in the purchase of excess energy produced during those bright sunny days when your solar panels are at home doing their job while you are off at work doing your job.
A Sunday Review editorial published over the weekend in the New York Times discusses this strategy. The Koch Brothers and others have, over the last few months, ramped up their spending to reduce or eliminate renewable energy incentives. Since for the most part utilities are regulated state by state, this is being done at the state level. At present, owing to grassroots organizing combined with a bit of rare common sense in state legislatures, most states require utilities to pay for energy fed back into the system by homeowners with small power plants. But, there are moves to reduce these paybacks or to charge homeowners a surcharge so the utilities actually make money on your electricity, to the extent that for many homeowners, installing solar may not be worth it. This is a kick in the groin for homeowners and small businesses who have already installed systems with certain expectation of cost and benefit, and it is a kick in the groin for the planet, and our future, because the shift to solar for some of our energy will be slowed down by these nefarious changes in regulation.
According to the NYT,
Oklahoma lawmakers recently approved such a surcharge at the behest of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative group that often dictates bills to Republican statehouses and receives financing from the utility industry and fossil-fuel producers, including the Kochs. As The Los Angeles Times reported recently, the Kochs and ALEC have made similar efforts in other states, though they were beaten back by solar advocates in Kansas and the surtax was reduced to $5 a month in Arizona.
But the Big Carbon advocates aren’t giving up. The same group is trying to repeal or freeze Ohio’s requirement that 12.5 percent of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025. Twenty-nine states have established similar standards that call for 10 percent or more in renewable power. These states can now anticipate well-financed campaigns to eliminate these targets or scale them back.
In some contexts, the utilities and their lobbyists are making the simple, straight forward, and correct, argument that wanton installation and use of domestic solar will hurt their profits. But we all know that the number one problem with our energy system at present is that it is driven by profits of the few at the cost (often through externalities, such as everybody dies etc. etc.) all others. Energy utilities should be viable, not profitable, and everyone knows and agrees with that. (Except the energy utilities.) And, of course, the Wealthiest People In The World need to keep their Mega Yachts well appointed, so that’s a consideration that most common people take into account … and ignore, resent, and get mad about.
So, as the NYT points out, Koch and friends have an alternative strategy to gain the hearts, minds, and monies of the American people.
Solar expansion, they claim, will actually hurt consumers. The Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest utility, funneled large sums through a Koch operative to a nonprofit group that ran an ad claiming net metering would hurt older people on fixed incomes by raising electric rates. The ad tried to link the requirement to President Obama. Another Koch ad likens the renewable-energy requirement to health care reform, the ultimate insult in that world. “Like Obamacare, it’s another government mandate we can’t afford,” the narrator says.
Here’s the ad that blames Obama for wanting to harm old people:
Here’s the ad that links Solar Energy and Obama Care to Solar Energy:
Do you find this annoying? Of course you do. But there is something you can do about it.
Since this battle is being fought at the state level in the US, if you are a US citizen and voter, just contact your state reps and tell them that you do not appreciate what the Koch Brothers and various utilities are doing. Send them a link to the NYT editorial …
… and tell them that you support home owners and businesses that want to use solar and that you don’t want to see any hint of legislation to interfere with that effort. Not sure who your state representatives are (or is, in some states, you have only one)? CLICK HERE to find out.
You might decide to not do this for one of two reasons, and in both cases you are wrong so please consider. Incorrect reason 1) “I live in a state that has already implemented good laws and regulations and I see no evidence that the Koch Brothers and Kin are coming after us, so why bother?” The reason this is wrong is that they are coming after your stat, you just don’t know it yet. Your letter, phone call, or email to your reps are a form of inoculation, imperfect, but potentially effective, against this. Incorrect reason 2) “My particular legislators are cool. They won’t vote in favor of any such Koch Sponsored Legislation (KSL).” That is wrong because your legislators are embedded in a complex system of give and take. It’s called “Politics.” They need a record of having been contacted by numerous constituents about this. That only happens if you contact them. So just do it.
Shawn Otto, in his book “Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America,” reports that he once asked a legislator (at the federal level) what constituted a “groundswell” of support for a particular issue. I don’t recall the exact number, but Shawn was told something to the effect and of the magnitude of “a dozen or so” letters from constituents. Note, I said letters, not emails. A letter looks like this:
It’s a tremendous amount of work. You have to print it out, find an envelope somewhere, get a “stamp” which costs several cents, and put the object in one of these:
… but it is worth it. Every one of those is probably worth hundreds of emails, because emails can be automated. But just to be sure, you can send the same text as an email and as a “letter” and while you are at it, send a tweet or two. When you send a tweet to your representatives, be sure that the tweet does not begin with the @ sign because if it does, it will not be generally viewable to others who follow your Twitter account. Put a “.” or something (not a space) first, then others will see what you are up to and perhaps join in. (See this for how to use Twitter more effectively.)
OK, that’s all for now. Imma go tweet my reps. See you later.