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A War Over Solar Power Is Raging Within the GOP 1030

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-sun dept.
mdsolar sends this quote from an article about the politics of solar energy: "Clean energy technology has always been an easy punching bag for conservatives. Propelled by growing strain of global warming denial within their party, Republicans in Congress have proposed to slash funding for renewable energy programs in half this year, and mocked the idea of a green economy as “groovy” liberal propaganda. Their argument, as laid out by House Republicans and libertarian organs like the Cato Institute and Reason magazine, is that the federal government shouldn't 'pick winners and losers' in the energy markets or gamble taxpayer dollars on renewable-energy loans to companies like Solyndra, the Silicon Valley solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving $535 million in federal loan guarantees. The assumption has always been that, without heavy government subsidies, renewable energy sources like solar and wind power would never be able to compete with fossil fuels. But something funny has happened to renewables that major power companies and their Republican allies didn't see coming. Over the past two years, the solar industry has skyrocketed, with one new solar unit installed every four minutes in the US, according to the renewable energy research group Greentech Media. The price of photovoltaic panels has fallen 62 percent since January 2011. Once considered a boutique energy source, solar power has become a cost-competitive alternative for many consumers, costing an average $143 per megawatt-hour, down from $236 in the beginning of 2011. Backed by powerful conservative groups, public utilities in several states are now pushing to curb the solar industry, and asking regulators to raise fees and impose new restrictions on solar customers. And as more people turn to rooftop solar as a way to reduce energy costs—90,000 businesses and homeowners installed panels last year, up 46 percent from 2011—the issue is pitting pro-utilities Republicans against this fledgling movement of libertarian-minded activists who see independent power generation as an individual right. In other words, the fight over solar power is raging within the GOP itself."
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A War Over Solar Power Is Raging Within the GOP

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  • Re:Sucks to be them. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alexander_686 (957440) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:09PM (#45493557)

    Not necessarily. Almost every economist – left or right – suggests that the right answer is to levy a carbon tax. That way capitalism kicks in are reduces greenhouse gasses in a more efficient manner then government subsidies.

  • Re:Fucking rednecks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:18PM (#45493683) Homepage Journal
    I too don't think the govt should be picking winners and losers either, most especially because the merit being judged here is likely political rather than technical.

    I like that the market is starting to work to promote solar, and I think soon it will pick up on other "green" energy things. Oil came into its own without a ton of federal help, so why can't alternative forms of energy?

    That being said...I hope the govt also doesn't jump in (either party) and start trying to regulate to death the fledgling solar industry or other green energy companies.

    Govt should be there just enough to allow the market to roll, but also stay out of the way once it starts rolling.

  • by StatureOfLiberty (1333335) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:19PM (#45493689)
    Congress (especially GOP members) don't seem to understand that we have no choice but to pick losers and winners. Their reluctance to fund research into alternative energy sources just ensures that the United States will lose. By the time they finally realize we have no choice but to get on board, we will have to pay China, Germany ..... to use the technology because it will have already been developed and made practical (and profitable) by them.
  • Re:Ironic this... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:25PM (#45493781) Journal
    China's a bit of a wedge issue, because doctrinaire free-marketeers don't really know what to make of mercantilists...

    More nationalistic elements, and people who care about god, guns, and gays but also need a job, tend to get jumpy at even the faintest hints of foreign mercantilism; but the free-marketeers can never resist the fact that 'dumping' is another word for "Crazy low prices, right now!" (see also, every company who has ever offshored production, and then been Shocked, Shocked, to learn that the initial absurdly good deal was to encourage them to bring technology and skills over, and now it is Exciting Mandatory Joint Venture With State-Owned Company time...)

    So long as China is willing to live in a toxic industrial hellzone and make various initially unprofitable moves, their prices for goods and labor will be too good for the free marketeers and slash 'n burn corporate reorg guys to say no to; but the nationalists and nativists will always be jumpy about it...
  • Re:Why subsidize? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:35PM (#45493915)

    If solar is doing so great then why does it need subsidies? Thats what the GOP doesn't like, not that such a thing exists, but that the government creates distortions in the economy by picking winners before the race starts. Old school republicans and libertarians both distaste government intervention. Solar will eventually become cost effective without subsidies, lets wait for that to happen.

    Simple: because we want to profit from the industry's growth in the future. What the "Old school republicans and libertarians" are missing is that if there isn't an up-front Angel-type investment in the industry's growth in the USA, then govermnents overseas will do it instead. Solyndra failed because of dumping from China (they have us beat on the state-sponsored industry game, no doubt) and the reluctance since then to even consider more investment has just opened the door for Chinese manufacturers to get a stranglehold on the industry.

    In short: we may benefit from green energy infrastructure after its installed despite your "wait and see" attitude, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the benefits we would reap if we invested properly in the industry as well. You clearly would rather work for a chinaman than work for yourself.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:41PM (#45494009) Journal

    If enough people start putting in solar arrays and going off grid and or feeding back to the grid it will undermine the electric operators.

    Delivered electricity costs might very well go way up for traditional customers. Distribution is a high fixed overhead. Either you sell enough generation or your really screw a certain groups of customers with high fixed minimum charges.

    Don't misunderstand I am opposed to doing anything to discourage people from going off grid, installing solar or selling back to the grid. I am also against doing anything specific to encourage it. Government should just stay out.

    But consider this their could come a day when having reliable electricity available at your home means paying very high monthly fees to be connected to a grid with fewer and few customers, or being able to invest and maintain an solar array and some kind of storage bank, be it kinetic, capacitance, or chemical batteries. That might create some haves and have nots out of what has become a pretty universal condition presently.

    The next thing you know some prick like Obama is going to be arguing for an individual grid connection mandate; because its only affordable if we all participate.

  • by Tangential (266113) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:54PM (#45494167) Homepage
    To me we need clean affordable energy whether Global Warming is real or not. We need cheap energy to keep our economy going and we need our children's children to be able to drink clean water and breathe clean air.

    What we really need is a President who will tackle energy with the same kind of committment that JFK gave us for the space program. As a country we invested mightily in the program and the process of getting that man on the moon created huge technical advantages for our nation. As a viable program it all went to crap after we reached that goal but we had already made the gains in technology that propelled us for the next few decades.

    A similar effort that yielded clean affordable energy would also yield lots of new technologies. We need that and a coordinated effort by the Federal Government is probably the quickest way to get there. That being said, it cannot just exist as a way to reward the President's supporters and just end up as money stuffed into pockets like Solyndra.
  • by FrankSchwab (675585) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:54PM (#45494171) Journal

    I find this very bizarre.

    I live in Phoenix. The only solar hot water heaters you see around here were put up 20 years ago when the politicians handed out rebates for installing them. Now, they're simply roof decorations. This, in an area where 20' of copper pipe on the roof is probably a good enough hot water heater 6 months of the year.

    I have an electric hot water heater. The developer created a very nice niche for it - inside the air-conditioned portion of the house. So, any heat leakage from it needs to be carried away by my electric Air Conditioner.

    I have an electric clothes dryer. In a very nice niche inside the air-conditioned portion of the house. So, for 8 months of the year, I use electricity to run the air conditioner to cool the air in my house, which then gets run into the dryer which uses a lot of electricity to heat it back up, and exhausts it outside - which draws more hot air back inside my house.

    Don't talk to me about bizarre.

  • by femtobyte (710429) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:56PM (#45494195)

    The big US government-subsidized solar production efforts like Solyndra failed because the *Chinese* government put up *even bigger subsidies* for their own research and production (without which, Solyndra was originally in line to be solidly financially successful). So, China will control the major energy technology sectors in the upcoming century, and America will become a technological laggard dependent on Chinese technology and manufacturing. Brilliant long-term planning for critical national infrastructure needs and technological leadership!

    China is a country with actual intelligent leadership and planning for long-term stability. They may be repressive authoritarian fucks, but at least they're not repressive authoritarian fucks like the Republican party who will also run their country into the ground for short-term greed.

  • Re:Why subsidize? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by amiga3D (567632) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:59PM (#45494229)

    I know you're biased and can easily see where your preferences are but I have to say I agree with you, at least partially. If instead of saying the GOP you had said "virtually all politicians" I would agree 100%. The liberal politicians happily wallow in the same mud as the so called conservatives. I myself, as a conservative, when President Obama was elected said that "at least he'll get rid of that damn Patriot Act." Turns out he's not even a good liberal.

  • Re:Fucking rednecks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:59PM (#45494245)
    Serious question for you then: Should it have to pay its own way NOW when fossil fuels are still cheaper? Or should we wait until fossil fuels become harder to come by and the prices go up and we get economic impacts as a result and only then invest in replacement power sources because they will be able to pay their own way then? In my opinion avoidance of the disruption inherent in waiting is worth some investment now.
  • Re:Fucking rednecks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by M. Baranczak (726671) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:06PM (#45494297)

    Solar uses huge amounts of land-per-MWh

    Solar can use space that's not being used for anything else, like rooftops.

    this only works in places with a lot of room and a lot of sun

    My friends have an off-grid house. Solar panels that feed a battery bank, plus a gasoline-powered generator as a backup. They very rarely run the generator, mostly in the winter. This is in central NY, which definitely doesn't get a lot of sun. Their heat comes from a wood stove. So they meet most of their energy needs with non-fossil sources. It's really not as hard as you think.

  • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:18PM (#45494423)

    You assume the growth curve of solar is purely linear and will always be purely linear, and you're already wrong. There are knees in the curve. Those knees are system price points. Above $70,000 for an installation (a decade ago) and you don't get very many new installations. At $50,000 you get more. At $30,000, still more. At today's price of under $10,000 you get many more. Many many more. Projections are 2014 will be a record breaking year for new installations. Not only is the deployment of solar power accelerating, the rate of growth of deployment is also accelerating.

    Solar photovoltaics are likely to follow a growth curve that looks like the adoption of LCD TVs. It will be exponential for some period of time, then abruptly level off as all the useful roofs owned by people with available capital are covered. That's a lot of roofs, and hundreds of gigawatts.

  • Re:Fucking rednecks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fche (36607) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:19PM (#45494437)

    "best thing the government can do is to throw around research dollars"

    Or maybe the best thing government can do is save its taxpayers' money, pay down the debt, and act fiscally prudent for a change.

  • Re:Why subsidize? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DuckDodgers (541817) <> on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:21PM (#45494465)
    It's not getting the oil in Iraq that matters. It's maintaining political stability in the Middle East so we can continue to buy oil from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, etc....

    Why did we get involved in Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran but not in Rwanda, Central African Republic, Uganda, Darfur? Because political instability in those parts of Africa doesn't substantially affect the US economy.
  • Re:Why subsidize? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anubis IV (1279820) on Friday November 22, 2013 @04:22PM (#45495255)

    Speaking strictly for myself, while I do agree that externalities exist, it seems a bit disingenuous to refer to something as a "subsidy" if a government is not asking anyone to pay it (a better term might be "unrealized gain", since they've simply failed to make a change, rather than actively providing an incentive). Given that $850 billion out of the $1 trillion in "subsidies" are coming from countries that either aren't party to the Kyoto Protocol or don't have targets under the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. the US, China, and Russia), and thus aren't active in policing this sort of stuff, it seems a bit absurd to refer to them as "subsidies", since they never attached a monetary value to it in the first place.

    I do get where you're coming from, however, and I do agree that the costs don't magically go away just because those governments aren't charging for them, but I still think it's a misapplication of the term and is being used to create sensationalist numbers. Moreover, that idea is backed up by the article, which pulls out of lot of big numbers to sound as scary as possible, but can't seem to get basic math right. According to it, out of the $1.3 trillion in subsidies, over $1 trillion are due to the sort of "subsidy" we've been discussing, while another $480 billion plus an unspecified "several" hundreds of billions more of traditional subsidies (the type we can all agree on, such as tax breaks and the like) make up the rest...which would be well beyond $1.3 trillion and tells me that they seem to be having problems reporting accurately on the report.

    P.S. I laughed so hard at another one of your comments [] earlier today. It was truly great.

  • Re:Ironic this... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FlyHelicopters (1540845) on Friday November 22, 2013 @04:41PM (#45495507)

    So long as China is willing to live in a toxic industrial hellzone and make various initially unprofitable moves, their prices for goods and labor will be too good for the free marketeers and slash 'n burn corporate reorg guys to say no to; but the nationalists and nativists will always be jumpy about it...

    I've always thought the solution to this was rather simple.

    Just require that anything imported into the US for consumption be produced under the same EPA rules as if they had been made here.

    Want those cheap Chinese iPads? No problem, but they have to be made in China the same way they would have to be made here, no toxic dumping.

    Companies might find it cheaper to bring back production than to ensure clean production overseas.

  • by Markvs (17298) on Friday November 22, 2013 @04:56PM (#45495679) Journal
    Wow. I love your link... thanks for showing that the fossil fuel industry does not get a single subsidy. Seriously. Everything listed from pages 6 through 13 is a tax break.
    And let's look at the things this wonderful environmentalist think tank listed as "Grants":

    1) LIHEAP ($6,358): The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Government funding to keep poor people warm.
    2) Strategic Petroleum Reserve ($6,183) : This is the Federal government keeping oil around in case of an emergency.
    3) Black Lung Disability Trust Fund ($1,035) : Federal money to pay benefits to sick miners.
    4) Highway Trust Fund ($500) : The Highway Trust Fund supports highway, road, and other transportation projects throughout the country. It is funded largely by the Transportation Fuel Excise Tax on road fuels.
    5) Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve ($50): similar to the SPR in #2 above, but concentrated in the Northeast where home heating oil is a common fuel.
    6) Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves ($28) : "As the payments do not benefit a fuel source, but rather were used to settle a dispute, they do not constitute a subsidy to fossil fuels."

    Calling any of these a subsidy if a sad joke. In short, there is NO SUBDSIDY OF FOSSIL FUELS by the US Government.
  • by rabun_bike (905430) on Friday November 22, 2013 @05:17PM (#45495941)
    Here in Georgia, Georgia Power has been very hostile to anything but coal, nuclear and as reluctantly been replacing coal plants in non-attainment zones (areas that violate the clear air act) with gas powered plants. They have been quoted as saying the sun doesn't shine enough in Georgia or that the wind doesn't blow hard enough off the eastern coast line in the Atlantic ocean. That said, what is most amazing is that Georgia Power it attempting to get a rule passed that states they are the sole provider for all sun derived power for the state of Georgia. Yes, that is correct. If you want to buy solar power from a 3rd party you can not do so in Georgia because only Georgia Power can provide your company solar power. You can put the panels up yourself but you can't enter into an agreement with a 3rd party to install and maintain the panels for you as a monthly business expense. Apparently in Georgia, Georgia Power owns the sun. [] [] []

Recent research has tended to show that the Abominable No-Man is being replaced by the Prohibitive Procrastinator. -- C.N. Parkinson