Solar and wind lobby lacks substance

By Thomas Pyle, September 21, 2015

The News & Observer

Gabe Elsner’s Sept. 15 Point of View “Flawed energy research from fossil fuel front groups” was full of labels but lacked ideas. He attacked my organization for supporting affordable energy and opposing North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. Yet he failed to address the substance of our claim: The state’s renewable mandate raises energy costs and harms North Carolina families.

The state legislature is debating whether to freeze the REPS, which forces North Carolina to use energy from more expensive sources, mainly wind and solar. As it stands, the state gets most of its electricity from low-cost nuclear, natural gas, and coal. How do we know wind and solar are more expensive? As the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources explained in a recent report, the REPS “may adversely impact economic growth” and “job losses from higher total cost of electricity across the state may exceed the jobs gained through renewables development.”

This jibes with a study by Strata Policy, which found that the state’s energy mandate cost North Carolina families $3,870, on average, in 2013 and that there were 23,769 fewer jobs at the end of 2014 than there would have been without the mandate.

Elsner, however, didn’t like the results of the Strata study and accused it of being “flawed.” His evidence? A quote from Michael Goggin of the American Wind Energy Association. AWEA is the national wind lobby, whose existence depends on government mandates like North Carolina’s REPS. Elsner had the gall to call for “credible third-party voices” to clear the air, yet he quoted Goggin, whose organization has a vested financial interest in North Carolina’s REPS. Asking the wind industry to assess the value of renewable energy mandates is like asking a pitcher to call his own balls and strikes.

By contrast, our interest is to promote market-based policies that lead to affordable, abundant and reliable energy for all North Carolinians. That is why we hosted a forum in Raleigh to discuss the future of the state’s renewable energy mandate. Many North Carolinians were happy to see us draw attention to the issue. As Ronnie Jackson, owner of Clinton Truck and Tractor Company, explained: “It’s heartbreaking to see this [farm] land taken by an industry that lives on government handouts.”

Others, like Elsner and Goggin, waxed apoplectic. Goggin went so far as to claim the Strata study uses a “statistical trick to blame the Great Recession on renewable energy.” This is intentionally misleading: Strata considered the effects of the economic downturn and subjected the study to a double-blind review process before publication. Not that it matters to Elsner or Goggin. Their obsession with labels distracts from their lack of ideas. Maybe that is the point, but we’re used to it. The national environmental lobby, and groups like AWEA that generously fund them, resort to personal attacks because they can’t justify the policy on its merits.