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Tea party on energy: Should we depend on the sun or the Koch brothers?

solar panels
Tea Party folks seem to understand that there’s no way the private market is going to achieve significant gains in solar production without mandates.

There’s an interesting Tea Party spat happening in Georgia over what sources of energy the state should consume. One faction seems to support increasing the state’s energy independence by increasing the percentage of solar energy produced and consumed. The other wing is funded by the Koch Brothers, whose financial interest is tied to importing and refining dirty fuels in Georgia:

Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of the Patriots, was one of dozens of people testifying during a multi-month commission hearing on the plan. She favors increased use of solar, in particular a request by the start-up Georgia Solar Utilities.

The newcomer wants a contract to supply all of Georgia Power’s solar energy and has offered to rebate its profits to individual customers.

“What we’re looking at is a plan that guarantees there would be no upward pressure on rates,” she said.

What’s interesting about this is that Tea Party folks seem to understand that there’s no way the private market is going to achieve significant gains in solar production without mandates. (Frankly, doubling solar production in 20 years isn’t exactly an ambitious goal but it’s better than nothing.)

What are the Koch brothers supposed to do when a company is willing to provide solar energy as a coop (rebating profits)? They shouldn’t have to compete against cleaner energy sources run by people who aren’t interested in becoming billionaires. That’s unfair competition requiring a misinformation campaign to lock in government mandates that favor burning stuff that another generation of Georgia’s kids will be forced to breath.

This post was written by Ed Kohler and originally published on The Deets. Follow Ed on Twitter: @edkohler

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/08/2013 - 02:53 pm.

    Solar panels

    In 2012, solar PV and concentrated solar provided one tenth of one percent of our electric power. So doubling that is indeed not a very ambitious goal.
    Rebating profits from a solar project is an easy promise to keep, since solar doesn’t make profits without large direct subsidies and mandates. The Koch brothers have some problems ahead, but competition from solar panels isn’t one of them.

  2. Submitted by Lance Groth on 07/08/2013 - 04:22 pm.

    What government does

    Providing subsidies and mandates is one of the proper functions of government, to promote programs or technologies that serve the public interest but that, left to pure market forces, might otherwise never see the light of day.

    Mr. Westgard likes to lambaste renewable energy technologies for receiving subsidies, yet he never mentions a far more objectionable subsidy, the billions of dollars in tax breaks given to the big oil companies, as well as exemptions from environmental regulations (thus allowing them to duck the true cost of their activities), despite the fact that they make record profits quarter after quarter. Now that is an obscene waste of taxpayer dollars.

  3. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/08/2013 - 07:30 pm.

    Direct and indirect subsidies

    The oil and gas industry uses the depreciation and tax credits available to all industries. Since they are often very profitable, those deductions from income are worth a lot. They aren’t worth much to solar and wind farms since those operations lose money, and so they need direct cash subsidies.

    EIA reports the following federal subsidy levels on an equivalent barrel of energy produced:
    Oil and gas – $0.28; Coal – $0.39; nuclear – $1.79; Biofuels – $20.37; Wind – $32.50; and Solar – $63.00.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 07/09/2013 - 08:11 am.

    Oil depletion allowance available to all industries?

    Extraction industries are permitted to capitalize their reserves and then write them off as they are exhausted. I suppose Apple and Microsoft could use these write offs if they wanted to plow their profits into oil, gas and other such businesses. Sun and wind can’t capitalize renewable resources.

  5. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/24/2013 - 02:06 am.

    Wind is 20% cheaper than nuclear, 13% cheaper than coal

    And that’s without subsidies, according to the EIA’s latest levelized cost estimates.

    http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

    As for solar, the US price for a full PV system is now $3.37 per watt. At the average insolation value for Minneapolis (3.68) over a 30 year period, that comes out to 8.4 cents per kWh. That’s 12% cheaper than the average price for electricity in Minnesota (9.5 cents/kWh), and it keeps getting cheaper. Its output curve also matches load curves really well, so it provides great value to utilities by offsetting expensive power from commercial producers.

    http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-industry-data
    http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a

    Intermittency is a non-sequitur, since we have abundant spare generation capacity with natural gas, that’s always been there not for wind and solar but to handle peak loads so that we don’t have to overinvest in baseload (ie, coal and nuclear, and somewhat hydro) capacity. Natural gas had a capacity factor of 22.3% in 2011, lower than the 29.7% for wind. Integration cost estimate in 2006 was less than 1/2 a penny per kWh, whereas the levelized cost difference between wind and nuclear without this consideration is 2.1 cents/kWh. Wind is still cheaper than nuclear.

    http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/showtext.cfm?t=ptb0802b
    http://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_04_03.html

    Also, any mention of nuclear than neglects the hundreds of billions of dollars in direct costs of the Fukushima meltdown is not being intellectually honest. It doesn’t even cover its cost effects on the nation’s grid nor its economy as a whole, including the value of Tepco. What’s the cost per kWh on that? This is precisely what was pointed out long ago in “Brittle Power” – the dangers of over-centralized production facilities and the kinds of extreme economic, natural, and human risks which exist from even short-lived events like earthquakes and tsunamis, or something like a terrorist attack. Wind and solar are incapable of having catastrophic events like meltdowns, breaks in coal slurry pools, or massive oil spills.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_environmental_disasters

    Meanwhile, we will keep improving storage technologies, integrate plug-in hybrids with the grid, and so forth. A lot of moving parts, but renewables will keep making more sense with time as we transition towards a sustainable arrangement.

  6. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/25/2013 - 12:14 am.

    Monticello goes down for 4-6 weeks every 2 years

    from Xcel:
    “The plant runs essentially 24 hours a day, seven days per week, except during refueling outages, which occur approximately every 24 months and last about four to six weeks. The plant is highly reliable with a five-year average capacity factor of 83.9 percent from 2005 – 2009.”

    http://www.xcelenergy.com/Safety_&_Education/Nuclear_Safety/About_Nuclear_Energy/Monticello_Nuclear_Generating_Plant

    1) Apparently the grid does just fine without baseload nuclear if it can handle it disappearing for 4-6 weeks at a time.

    2) If a plant shuts down an average of 5 weeks every 2 years and “runs 24/7” the rest of the time to its full output capability, it would have a capacity factor of 96.2% over a 5 year period. Instead, Xcel says it achieved 83.9%, meaning it was offline a lot more than 70 days over 5 years and/or was not producing at its full capacity at all times.

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