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Power The Almighty Buck Politics Science

The Koch Brothers Attack On Solar Energy 769

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "The NYT writes in an editorial that for the last few months, the Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, by pushing legislatures to impose a surtax on this increasingly popular practice, hoping to make installing solar panels on houses less attractive. 'The coal producers' motivation is clear: They see solar and wind energy as a long-term threat to their businesses. That might seem distant at the moment, when nearly 40 percent of the nation's electricity is still generated by coal, and when less than 1 percent of power customers have solar arrays. But given new regulations on power-plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants, and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions, the future clearly lies with renewable energy.' For example, 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 (video) 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. 'That line might appeal to Tea Partiers, but it's deliberately misleading,' concludes the editorial. 'This campaign is really about the profits of Koch Carbon and the utilities, which to its organizers is much more important than clean air and the consequences of climate change.'"
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The Koch Brothers Attack On Solar Energy

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  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:22AM (#46857665)

    What makes you think that? Germany's Energiewiende is a horror show of failures and disgusting cost overruns so far going so far as to actually provide direct proof for some of the claims in the story (after it was implemented, Germany actually started to have a concept of energy poverty, people who cannot afford electricity). Coal is about the only reliable and cheap source of power that we have enough raw materials for for several hundred years into the future that can be easily maintained or expanded as needed (other than nuclear which has a serious PR problem, which may have something to do with the same lobby).

    Sad reality is that coal seems pretty safe today. For all the incentives, it's still far too good to pass on. They're likely trying to simply ensure that solar doesn't get any kind of foothold at all and going for very long term strategy here. It's just one of the ways that shows that US is indeed an oligarchy rather than democracy today.

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by imikem ( 767509 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:49AM (#46857823) Homepage

    Sure, nothing happens when millions of years' worth of fossilized plants are combusted in the space of a few decades. 100% of that stored energy is converted to useful work, no CO2 is released into the atmosphere, no other pollutants like mercury and uranium either.

    I don't have to "believe" anything. I took math, chemistry, physics along the way to an engineering degree. Anyone with even a solid high school education can do the math for themselves.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:50AM (#46857833)

    Seems like it is only a matter of time until coal power goes away. It will be a long time, granted, but in the next decade or two solar will get so cheap that the impact on traditional centralized generation will be quite severe.

    I hope you are correct but I think you are being wildly optimistic. Coal isn't going to disappear anytime in the next 40+ years baring some unexpected technological breakthrough. The US and China have HUGE amounts of coal and can get to it relatively cheaply. Solar will not catch up on a cost basis without continued subsidies for an unclear amount of time. Coal has an economic advantage because power plants that utilize coal are not required to pay the full economic cost. Even the cleanest coal plants are able to dump significant amounts of pollutants into the environment without any economic direct consequences. To level the playing field coal will need to be required to account for these costs and I don't really see that happening in any reasonably foreseeable configuration of political leadership in most of the world. There simply are too many people making too much money from fossil fuels for that to be likely to occur.

    Solar is advancing relatively fast but it's no panacea and absent some energy storage breakthrough it's of limited use when the sun isn't shining. We should definitely advance solar as far as it will take us but it's not going to solve the entire problem alone. Same issue with wind. Very useful but difficult to predict availability on short time scales. Nuclear fission is current the only non-fossil fuel power source we have with sufficient generating capacity to serve as a base load in place of fossil fuel sources in places not blessed with hydro or geo-thermal close by. Obviously fission carries its own set of problems which are well known.

    I guess they are watching what is happening in Germany with horror and realizing that is their future too.

    Germany is spending a LOT of money to subsidize solar. It's unclear whether this is economically sensible though I do hope that their experiment proves a success. However there are (too) many here in the US who regard that sort of subsidy as blasphemy and will do everything they can to fight it. The fact that many of these same people will ironically support subsidies (both explicit and implicit) for fossil fuel production will never come up because they are supported by that industry.

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:53AM (#46857875)

    You can point to, for example, the Aberfan disaster and say "Coal killed a hundred kids" or to the death toll from coal mining and transport year on year and say "Coal killed these workers" (China proudly announced the death toll from coal mining had fallen below 3000 per annum a couple of years back. It used to be a lot higher). That's on top of the mercury, cadmium, radon, sulphuric acid fumes, dioxins, beryllium, arsenic and the thousands of tonnes of other toxic wastes spread through the atmosphere and over agricultural lands and deposited in rivers and oceans every year which kills and maims people who don't work with coal directly. But nuclear power is worse somehow.

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mellon ( 7048 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:20AM (#46858101) Homepage

    Yes, that's all very well and good, but have you asked the rich person what s/he will do about this? Actually, you don't need to. They're already doing it. They're trying to completely pwn our political system in order to avoid having to lose that money. Yes, it would be good for them to lose that money, but that's not what's going to happen if they get their way.

    This is often depicted as the rich guys with the oil just acting crazy, but they aren't acting crazy. They are defending themselves, for good reason. If we want a good outcome here, we have to take their situation into account. An ideal outcome would be that they are given a way to dispose of those stranded assets that results in them taking a beating, but not so bad of a beating that they will do anything they can to avoid it. Just saying "let them lose" isn't really an option, because they don't want to lose, and they have a lot of power right now.

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:44AM (#46858339)

    Plenty of job titles that have been made obsolete by the march of progress. Telegraph operators became obsolete due to Bell and the telephone. Telephone exchange operators became obsolete due to Strowger and his automatic telephone exchange. Flight engineers became obsolete because of improvements to airplane flight systems. Archers became obsolete because of the invention of the gun. Bus conductors became obsolete because of improvements to ticketing systems (meaning people can buy tickets before boarding, buy a ticket from the driver or use a preloaded smart card to pay).

    Jobs becoming obsolete is just part of the technological advancement that has driven society for centuries. And just like the telegraph operators, telephone operators, flight engineers, archers, bus conductors and others involved in now-obsolete operations, the coal miners would have to adapt and find new jobs.

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slack_justyb ( 862874 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:02AM (#46858551)

    ...most commenters, including you, don't seem to think much of that power imbalance

    Well I can't speak for parent, but honestly this has been the case since political power overtook that whole tribal test of strength thing back in the days. Submit a single instance where those who held the highest concentration of resources (money, slaves, oil (crude or olive), land, etc...) didn't use them to get favorable status from those who represented the people and then we'll talk.

    All the study proves is that which we've already known. Maybe it might incline some to give money to the underdogs, but to stir the population into change is way not on the plate. Even if a government is over thrown, eventually another props up and rich people (in resources not just money) just dig their claws in again. So since talking about something that's never going to go away no matter how much bug killer you spray on it, why not talk about something else?

    The whole idea should be let's make the solar companies rich so that they can do attack ads on coal, oil, and all them other folks. The only way anyone will make headway is to play the same game that's been played for the last six to ten millennia. Maybe in another ten to twenty millennia we will be ready to address this whole facet of humanity.

  • by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:31AM (#46858927) Homepage

    Roosevelt once stated that this type of centralization of power in the private sector that corporations have today, could eventually lead to fascism. In some way, I don't think he was too far off.

    Thank you for mentioning Roosevelt. I did a search just now and came up with his address [] to Congress on curbing monopolies in 1938. I think it gives me more of an idea as to the real reasons for WWII: private power versus public power.

    Here is an exerpt:

    Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people.

    The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.

    The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mellon ( 7048 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:19AM (#46859527) Homepage

    Um. We built a Passivhaus (look it up), and we have solar generation on our roof, and we eat local foods as much as possible (which is very much a lot). I make my own yogurt from locally-produced milk we get in glass containers, because plastic yogurt containers were previously the biggest source of waste in our household. But there's no way to boycott the fossil fuel economy, because it's completely pervasive.

    As for your comments about global warming, you're absolutely right. 97% of the world's climate scientists, who are generally not paid very well, agree that global warming is real and a real danger to human existence. They agree because they are in a conspiracy together. The 3% of climate scientists who disagree are doing it out of a selfless desire to help others. And the massive oil industry campaign to suppress global warming science is a heroic effort to stop the conspiracy before the scientists reap their ill-gotten rewards (to wit: continued employment at low wages). Thank G-D for free enterprise!

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:20AM (#46859555)

    True, but those finite numbers are insanely higher, and the deposits are *everywhere*, granting virtually all nations the option of energy independence. Consider that a single cubic meter of granite contains thorium and uranium with the energy equivalent of ~500 barrels of oil, giving granite almost 100x the energy density of oil. A cubic meter of phosphate ore contains the equivalent of ~1,000-10,000 barrels of oil, and we're already mining it for the agriculturally valuable phosphorous - we'd just need to separate out the fuel from the ore already being processed anyway. And even that is considered a relatively poor ore. Fission could supply our energy demands for several hundred years from ready ore, many thousands if we developed a way to filter it out of seawater. Plenty of time I think for us to work out decent battery technology so we can easily use renewables. Or get fusion off the ground. Of course that will probably just shift the demand to boron ore instead, but we've got tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of years worth of of that. Which should be plenty of time to master mass-energy conversion (domesticated black holes?), and then all bets are off. We can mine the white dwarf that was once our sun for mass-energy. Because after all even renewables are finite, sunlight won't be around forever.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:21AM (#46859565)

    Mass deployment of nuclear power could almost completely replace fossil fuels in half that time.

    Not economically or politically possible. The risks involved with nuclear fission mean that private insurance is not going to happen so governments will have to indemnify it and that isn't likely to happen in a lot of places. Too many voters are too scared of nuclear. While reactors have become safer, they haven't been demonstrated to be safe enough to not require absurdly strict oversight. Nobody has solved the problems of waste or weapons proliferation. Nuclear is relatively safe generally but when accidents happen they can be REALLY dangerous and make large areas uninhabitable for centuries.

    Technologically it fission could replace a lot of (though not all) fossil fuels but it will not happen because technology concerns are just one part of the equation. Put it this way: if you asked 100 people whether they would rather live next to a nuke plant or a coal plant, I'd lay you good odds that 90%+ would prefer to live near the coal plant even if the data showed the risk to their health was higher.

    The only application which would require somewhat more work is airplane propulsion, where it's hard to match Jet-A

    The "only application"? Not true, particularly for marine applications. First you have to replace virtually every internal combustion engine on the planet including those cars, power tools, some appliances, boats, ships, personal watercraft, etc. Some of those have solutions in the pipleline (cars, applicances and some tools) whereas others have no practical replacement likely in the near term. There is no practical way to power most marine vehicles with electricity. We can make a few large vessels nuclear but doing so en-mass is a bad idea on a whole bunch of levels. There is presently no electric motor replacement for an outboard motor on a smaller boat. Even if it were possible today to convert all these engines (it's not) it would still take decades if we started now for economic reasons.

  • Looters... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TheAngryMob ( 49125 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @01:44PM (#46861055) Homepage

    You know, for people that calm to be devotees of Ayn Rand's work, the Koch Brothers (and the Tea Party in general) clearly haven't read Atlas Shrugged.

    Using the government taxes and rules to crush your opponents (when you can't do it in the free market) was the main tactic...of the book's villains.

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @03:05PM (#46861863) Journal

    Actually, Solyndra was heavily subsidized. And it ended up being the tip of titanic that got sunk by the iceberg of reality. A large number, to the tune of billions of dollars of subsidized companies, went belly up. I didn't mention those "facts" because Solar is one of most subsidized industries. I mean, you gotta hand it to Harry Reid to come up with a crazy scheme to create a wealth transfer system to his son and dress it up in Environmental subsidies.

  • Re:Buggy whips? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @04:45PM (#46862829) Homepage
    well look at BP as one example. BP is one of the companies spending more on renewables than most. They dont even call themselves an oil company, but an energy company.

    the koch brothers are not wrong for wanting to keep what they have, but they are wrong by not diversifying and transitioning to a total energy company, solar, wind, hydro, nuke, on top of coal and oil. That is where the smart billionaires will be

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. -- John Kenneth Galbraith