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Power Republicans

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

    by PvtVoid (1252388) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:55PM (#45493415)
    Sooner or later, being anti-science and pro-capitalist is bound to catch up with you.
  • Impossible! (Score:5, Funny)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:55PM (#45493419) Journal
    How could there be GOP figures busily lobbying in favor of state taxation and repression of individuals in the interests of incumbent corporations?

    I've been assured, with a level of seriousness that only they can muster, by any number of internet randroids, that the right is the side of personal freedom and autonomy, and the left is the path of collectivist fascism and agenda-21! How could this be?
  • by fightinfilipino (1449273) on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:56PM (#45493427) Homepage
    perhaps they could stop subsidizing fossil fuels and ethanol as well. [elistore.org]
    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:10PM (#45493573) Journal

      It has nothing to do with picking winners and losers.
      It never did.

      It's always been about entrenched interests maintaining the status quo.
      Interestingly, the entrenched interests in this case aren't gas/oil companies,
      they already started diversifying years ago, it's the power utilities who are resistant to the change.

      • It has nothing to do with picking winners and losers. It never did.

        It's always been about entrenched interests maintaining the status quo. Interestingly, the entrenched interests in this case aren't gas/oil companies, they already started diversifying years ago, it's the power utilities who are resistant to the change.

        oh i'm aware. sometimes i forget sarcasm doesn't translate well on the interwebs :P

        in my estimation, we should be pushing for research and investment in alternative fuel and energy tech. the U.S. should be at the forefront, creating new industries and manufacturing jobs in the process. of course, the current status quo and current companies have a problem with losing their "privileged" status, and their political proxies foist it off as "picking winners and losers".

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:17PM (#45493675) Journal
      As long as it's two senators per state, nobody is likely to fuck with representatives from even lightly populated corn-heavy states...
    • by james_shoemaker (12459) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:36PM (#45493931)

      Did you even read the article you linked to? Most of those subsidies take the form of things like allowing corporations to deduct expenses from their taxes (much like any other business). One of the supposed subsidies to the oil and gas industry cited in the report is government heating assistance for the poor.

    • by purpledinoz (573045) on Friday November 22, 2013 @04:26PM (#45494521)
      And maybe encourage saving energy more strongly. One thing that struck me when I was on business in Phoenix, Arizona, is how energy inefficient everything was. I would take warm showers in my air conditioned apartment, while it was 40C outside. The water was no doubt heating with electricity or gas. Why not use solar water heaters? And why are the offices air conditioned so much? What a huge waste of energy. The apartment was equipped with a washing machine and a dryer. Do people in the desert really use a dryer? You can just hang your clothes out for an hour and everything will be bone dry. Why were people driving huge trucks just to go to work? There is HUGE potential for reducing energy consumption, which I suspect is the lowest hanging fruit.
  • Paragraphs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby AT comcast DOT net> on Friday November 22, 2013 @02:59PM (#45493463)

    Paragraphs make text readable. You giant paragraph is completely unreadable. Please write in such a way that people can even have an opportunity to read you.

    Thanks,
    The Internet

  • Ironic this... (Score:5, Informative)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:00PM (#45493473)

    The GOP allowed solar -production- to be kicked over to China. First, the solar companies were complaining about Chinese intrusion attempts, then China started dumping panels on our shores for cheaper than it cost US makers to buy the rare earths.

    However, the split is going along two lines of two GOP platforms. Dislike for government versus respect for Big Oil/Big Coal. Solar allows people to be fairly independent [1].

    Solar also scales well. One can have a one watt panel to keep a vent fan spinning on a RV's roof, or a multi-megawatt array powering a city like Austin.

    Solar is also fairly easy to deploy. Got a clear line of sight to the south? Might as well slap a few panels up, add a grid-tie inverter, and have a lower power bill, or if in a more rural area, have the power feed into a battery bank for complete off-grid use, or even a combination of both with some outlets in a house on utility powers, others feeding from the batteries. Same thing if one has a carport. Might as well have the flat roof do something.

    As for price, solar panel prices have gotten to a point where it becomes a "why not?" as opposed to a "why bother?" This is especially true in the RV industry.

    [1]: Almost. Good luck having a modern building in the southern US without air conditioning unless one is content to deal with high humidity.

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

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:25PM (#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:Ironic this... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FlyHelicopters (1540845) on Friday November 22, 2013 @05:41PM (#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 themushroom (197365) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:02PM (#45493495) Homepage

    ...where much of the government is Republican but a lot of the power on the grid comes from solar farms?

    • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:29PM (#45493825)

      People here want solar. Like the article mentions, there was a vote this week to raise monthly costs of solar users here in AZ. The public utility wanted an increase of $50 - $100 per month and spent $3.7 million on an advertising and lobbying campaign (in addition to the money they always contribute to the entirely-Republican-staffed committee that regulates them). After the vote, regulators approved a $5 increase per month. People here realize that APS is trying to stifle solar, and this is arguably the best state in the country for solar production. People want solar, and the regulators understand that (despite being Republicans).

  • by thomasinx (643997) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:02PM (#45493499)
    Just to point it out... Just because a few very vocal groups in the GOP are claiming to be libertarian, that does not mean that libertarians are GOP. The interests of the two groups do not align very well, so a conflict such as this is only to be expected.
  • by H0p313ss (811249) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:05PM (#45493521)

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
    -- Mohandas K. Gandhi

  • by FlyHelicopters (1540845) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:11PM (#45493595)
    A new solar panel is installed every four minutes? Really?

    How many new coal plants were built last year?

    Solar accounts for 0.17% of our electric production in this country, tripling it won't make any difference.

    The numbers are not on solar's side. Electric production from fossil fuels is up more than 30% in the past 20 years, it isn't being replace by solar, demand is growing faster than solar panels are being installed.

    I agree that pollution is bad, I agree that releasing tons of CO2 is probably bad (we don't know for sure, but I don't want to find out the hard way, better to play it safe and not burn it all)

    My primary complaint is that people who talk about renewables simply are working from emotion and not from numbers and math. The math is not on renewables side, I'm sorry to say.

    A billion people in the world are going to get access to AC and clean water over the next 50 years. It matters not what the USA and Europe do, our populations will be overwhelmed by China and India's use of coal in that time.

    We need large scale power sources. Right now, the options are coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear.

    The sooner environmentalists get off the solar kick and focus on reality, the sooner we can replace fossil fuels with something else. (Which in this case is nuclear, since it is the only option left)

    • by finkployd (12902) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:21PM (#45493713) Homepage

      > Solar accounts for 0.17% of our electric production in this country, tripling it won't make any difference.

      Is this counting only energy company production or people/companies reducing their consumption from the grid by augmenting it with solar? If so, how?

      > The sooner environmentalists get off the solar kick and focus on reality, the sooner we can replace fossil fuels with something else. (Which in this case is nuclear, since it is the only option left)

      There can be only one?

    • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Friday November 22, 2013 @04:18PM (#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.

  • by StatureOfLiberty (1333335) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:19PM (#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.
    • by icebike (68054) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:41PM (#45494007)

      Really?
      Because the story more or less proves (inspite of its hate mongering) that Viable wind and viable Solar can spring up with out Government picking winners.

      There are at least 12 companies working on Micro and Mini Nuclear plants [world-nuclear.org], some of which can be trucked to a city, set into semi-buried location and trucked out again when their fuel or life is exhausted.

      The clowns in Congress can't even keep the streets paved. Don't look to them for a solution to energy. The best you can hope for is that they do nothing and let industry develop viable solutions.

  • by DarthVain (724186) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:22PM (#45493721)

    The only reason you subsidize renewable energy generation such as solar is to make it currently viable whereas otherwise it would not.
    The only reason you make renewable energy generation currently viable is to jump start development.
    The only reason you jump start development is if you want to be the one producing the technology or buying the technology.

    There is also the matter that on a grand scale, infrastructure takes awhile to build, it isn't something you can just do overnight.

    Anyway so long as the idea isn't that things like solar is going to solve all your energy issues because it will not. It is part of a generation mix. You can however increase its effectiveness and the percent used overall to help mitigate other energy related issues.

  • There is certainly a lot of political agenda polemic when it comes to energy, and this article is no different.

    As Slashdot is theoretically geared toward engineers, having a hard look at the numbers involved is not an optional consideration. See here for Germany's story:

    http://www.quora.com/Alternative-Energy/Should-other-nations-follow-Germanys-lead-on-promoting-solar-power-1?srid=ue54&share=1 [quora.com]

    Solar is great for micro/local-level offsets in particularly sunny places, and it's good if you want to build a compound for the zombie apocalypse. As a key component of energy policy for the United States, it is not and has never been practical compared to wind or nuclear power.

    Politicians in every party love being able to pick winners and losers. It's one of the perks of the jobs. People imagine solar as warm, fuzzy, and mother Earth friendly. If that were the case, Germany wouldn't have a bigger carbon footprint now than it did before it had the world's largest nameplate capacity of solar power production.

    If you're concerned about global warming from burning fossil fuels, the only choice at the moment that satisfies all the requirements of most first world country's energy policy is nuclear. Nothing else comes close.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:23PM (#45493735)

    Many states can use the cheap solar hot water systems, costing $3-5k professionally installed, less than half that if you're not scared of plumbing. It's not all about generating electricity, spinning meters backwards or off-grid storage.

    Some countries around the Mediterranean have laws that all buildings have to have solar systems to heat domestic water. They're different designs from ours, looking somewhat clunky and like the old USSR hodgepodge satellites, but they're effective.

    Here in FL, every other cookie cutter house has a pool solar system, but very few have domestic hot water panels, even though they're cheaper and take up far less roof space, and save having to have the 50 gallon tank powered all day every day. I find this very bizarre.

    Our house (2 adults, 2 kids) hot water is purely heated from the sun bar the 10-14 days of the year when I have to switch on the power to the tank due to extended cloud coverage. We also have pool panels, but to get the benefit of extending the pool usage period, we have to have the pool pump running a lot longer, which uses a fair amount of power.

    • by FrankSchwab (675585) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:54PM (#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 fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:24PM (#45493759)

    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 ...

    Okay. Step 1: Cancel all subsidies / tax breaks [thinkprogress.org] and tax loopholes for the Oil Companies. Sure they're *only* about $2-4 billion / year, but it's a start. (Note: Reason.com - slogan "Free Minds and Free Markets - thinks these are okay [reason.com]).

    Just noting from the Think Progress article:

    Last year, the five largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil — earned $118 billion profit at a time when consumers paid record-high gas prices. This haul follows after a year the companies earned a record $137 billion profit.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Friday November 22, 2013 @03:41PM (#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 @03:54PM (#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 rabun_bike (905430) on Friday November 22, 2013 @06:17PM (#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.

    http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2013/10/21/2756402/georgia-public-service-commission.html [ledger-enquirer.com]
    http://gareport.com/blog/2013/03/27/hb-657-georgias-solar-monopoly-bill/ [gareport.com]
    http://www.gasolarutilities.com/index.php/news/130-solar-becomes-battleground-for-georgia-electricity-regulation [gasolarutilities.com]

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