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Conservative Groups Team Up To Fight Renewable Energy: ‘We’re Going To See A Knock-Out, Drag-Out Fight’

By Stephen Lacey  

"Conservative Groups Team Up To Fight Renewable Energy: ‘We’re Going To See A Knock-Out, Drag-Out Fight’"

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The campaign to kill renewable energy, brought to you by the organization that gave you this billboard.

Six months after rolling out a disastrous billboard campaign that linked people who care about global warming to the Unabomber, the Heartland Institute is looking for another project to boost its profile.

And what better way for the organization to mend its tarnished image than to go after a policy that Americans overwhelmingly support?

The Heartland Institute, known for its campaigns to cast doubt about the science of climate change, is now teaming up with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to craft laws repealing state-level renewable energy targets. ALEC is best known as a “stealth business lobbyist” that helps corporate interests write and pass legislation friendly to their interests. This spring, the organization came under fire for its role in pushing Stand-Your-Ground laws that opponents blamed for the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Both the Heartland Institute and ALEC lost major funders throughout the spring as a result of the separate controversies.

The campaign to dismantle these types of laws isn’t new. Last summer, Bloomberg News reported on tax documents showing that Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil and other energy companies paid membership fees to ALEC in order to help write legislation repealing carbon pollution reduction programs in states around country. But after getting beat on the issues in national elections earlier this month, these groups are doubling down on their efforts to kill clean energy on the state level.

The Washington Post reported this weekend on how the embattled Heartland Institute is joining the campaign:

The involvement of the Heartland Institute, which posted a billboard in May comparing those who believe in global warming to domestic terrorist Theodore J. Kaczynski, shows the breadth of conservatives’ efforts to undermine environmental initiatives on the state and federal level. In many cases, the groups involved accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers.

The Heartland Institute received $736,500 from Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2006, according to the group’s spokesman Jim Lakely, and $25,000 in 2011 from foundations affiliated with Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, whose firm Koch Industries has substantial oil and energy holdings. Lakely wrote in an e-mail that the Koch donation was “earmarked for our work on health care policy, not energy or environment policy.” He added the institute had received financial support from the Koch brothers before 2001, but did not specify how much.

James Taylor, the Heartland Institute’s senior fellow for environmental policy, said he was able to persuade most of ALEC’s state legislators and corporate members to push for a repeal of laws requiring more solar and wind power use on the basis of economics.

So far, 29 states have renewable energy targets in place. And with years of experience in these states, multiple analyses have shown that these laws have had virtually no impact on rate increases.

Heartland and ALEC are building their campaign around economic research from the Beacon Hill Institute, a free-market think tank that has received money from Koch-backed groups:

As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.

The analyses — which examine current or proposed standards in such states as Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Oregon — assume that the Energy Information Administration’s projected renewable energy price estimates are too low, and that cost-containment measures embedded in state policies will fail. As a result, the reports conclude Kansas’s requirement to obtain 20 percent of its electricity will cost consumers $644 million over the next eight years, while Oregon’s goal of 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025 will cost consumers $992 million by 2025.

Beacon Hill Institute research economist Michael Head said he and his two co-authors were skeptical the cost caps outlined in legislation would kick in.

“We just left it out so we could provide the actual analysis of the policy itself,” Head said, adding that the central question is not whether renewable energy costs more but “the matter of degree. You’re certainly going to have these higher electricity prices. They will have profound negative consequences for the states’ economies.”

Richard Caperton, a renewable energy finance expert at the Center for American Progress, explained that the studies are based on a number of flawed assumptions.

“The Beacon Hill studies arbitrarily choose high-end estimates for the future price of renewables, they wrongly claim there are no environmental benefits to using renewable energy, they ignore the fact that most state targets have price caps built into them, and they ignore the data we already have showing that there is no evidence that state renewable energy targets drive up rates for consumers,” he told Climate Progress.

Conservative groups also claim that renewable energy mandates will stifle economic growth. However, the non-partisan Energy Information Administration recently modeled the impact of national Renewable Energy Standard and found that it would leave GDP growth virtually unchanged. Under an 80% clean energy standard by 2035, GDP would grow at 2.67% — just a .02 percent change from the baseline 2.69%.

In an effort to work with these conservative groups from within, the Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Wind Energy Association have become members of ALEC. (SEIA was a member until this summer). But the fight is less about the economics or social importance of renewable energy, and more about an ideological battle over the role of government in setting targets for clean energy.

“I think we’re going to see a real knock-out drag-out fight,” said Scott Sklar, president of the renewable energy consultancy The Stella Group, speaking to Climate Progress. “A lot of the conservative groups that didn’t get a lot of payback spending money the national level during this past election have increasingly been moving toward these state fights.”

Public polling suggests that these groups are on the wrong side of the issue. A recent survey from Harvard, Yale, and the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that Americans would be willing to pay $160 per year more to deploy clean energy. And a pre-election poll showed that 72 percent of swing voters agreed that the government should to more to promote solar energy — illustrating why the millions of dollars in attack ads this campaign season didn’t sway the election.

“This will be an interesting set of fights,” said Scott Sklar. “The clean energy industry is preparing for them. But I do believe the country is reaffirming its commitment to clean energy in all its forms, and I don’t think they’re going to be duped into these arguments against the industry.”

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18 Responses to Conservative Groups Team Up To Fight Renewable Energy: ‘We’re Going To See A Knock-Out, Drag-Out Fight’

  1. Great story, thanks!

    The flow of well-funded misinformation continues to gush along. And clear coverage like this is one of the essential tools for combatting it!

    • You’re assuming that people read. What’s just as important is making sure that the solar industry has its lobbyists in place in the state assemblies. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to have some useful sound bites like “Solar Saves’” ready to roll out.

  2. Zimzone says:

    I’d like to buy the world a Koch,

    but they already own it.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Koch and Exxon have learned that it’s cheaper and often more effective to buy state legislators. We’ve seen it happen in forest policy, where national standards always have to intervene. Left to their devices, state pols want to cut every tree and drill every hole.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Just like Australia. Although the Opposition Leader, Tony ‘Climate Change is Crap’ Abbott has promised to destroy the carbon tax, the renewable energy target and the green energy fund (all while ludicrously and unbelievably promising ‘direct action’ on climate destabilisation)the main action so far is in the states. The state Rightwing regimes elected in the last few years are the most fanatically anti-environmental regimes ever. While it is still de rigeur to lie through your teeth that you love the environment (perhaps with a picture of the Great Leader clutching a koala or molesting a kangaroo)once elected every piece of environmental law is under attack. And the two Rightwing parties, ostensibly sworn enemies, are regularly getting together now, or floating the idea, to swap voting preferences to ensure that the Greens Party is not elected. And the Rightwing MSM continues to preach hatred of Greens and environmentalism every day.

  4. BillD says:

    After the election and after the inept campaign of the Heartland Insititute, I am thinking that it might be a good for renewable energy to have oposition from ALEC and the Heartland Institute. I am assuming that the anti-environment groups do not have an overwhelming advantage in money for advertising and lobbying.

    I suggest the following theme for supporting renewable energy. “Renewable energy reduces both air pollution and the risk of climate change. Now is the time to reduce our dependence of dirty fossil energy.”

    We should also point out that the cost of solar and wind energy has been coming down so quickly, that these sources of energy are getting cheaper by the day.

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    PLEASE stop referring to the Heartland Institute, ALEX and the Beacon Hill Institute as “conservative” groups. That makes them sound as though they are motivated by some sort of principles, or ideology, or philosophy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    They are nothing but bought-and-paid-for front groups for the fossil fuel corporations. Their so-called “conservative” pseudo-ideology is as fake and phony as their denialist pseudo-science.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    9 Democratic Senators go to the White House to pressure Obama to approve Keystone:

    http://hoeven.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news-releases?ID=a9a3bd9e-68b4-4dd5-ad08-fbc91d2f5656

    We’ve got a long way to go, and very little time.

  7. fj says:

    What bores these obstructionists and deniers are.

    Here is direct indication of the exciting potential of designing with natural systems

    Sailrocket runs 65.45 knots (75 mph) to smash World Speed Sailing Record

    http://www.gizmag.com/new-world-speed-sailing-record-6537kts-75mph-121kmh/25065/

  8. Scharmel Roussel says:

    I rarely comment here although I support all you do. I want to add that I have met the brother of Ted Kaczynski and know the heart-breaking pain that family endures every day. To see this on a billboard is unnecessary, hateful, and cruel.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Kaczynski’s ideology was spot on, and his intelligence and understanding, I believe, cannot be doubted. He was, of course, wrong and immoral and acting against the interests of the world he saw being destroyed by capitalist excess, when he killed people, randomly and senselessly. They were not even the prime culprits, just low-level functionaries trying to make a living. He is an abject example of how the resort to violence must be a dead end. How to peacefully destroy a neoplastic and remorseless global economic order is the question of questions.

  9. Russell says:

    The day the Unabomber story broke , I had lunch with W.V. Quine, who’d been pestered all morning by reporters who’d heard Kaczinski had been an A student in his diffcult Introduction To Modal Logic.

    ” Itold them that while he did well in mathematical logic, unfortunately he never took my course in moral philosophy”

  10. Gillian King says:

    “an ideological battle over the role of government in setting targets for clean energy.”

    The more worthy ideological battle is the role of govt in subsidising industries way beyond their need for it.

    I guess there’s no chance of ALEC taking up THAT battle – their fossil fuel masters wouldn’t like it.

  11. Solar Jim says:

    The newly proposed comprehensive energy plan for the state of Connecticut has substantial advocacy for public funding of “natural gas” buildout.

    This will be based on “unconventional gas” (aka hydraulic fracturing) but conventional politics.