Conservative Folly: How the Right's War on Renewable Energy Could Doom Red States
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This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
Despite impressive green economic growth during this country's job-challenged recovery, particularly in the wind energy sector, the conservative right is systematically seeking to reverse this trend by repealing state-mandated renewable energy targets, even if many of the states that stand to lose jobs and economic opportunity lean red.
Right-wing groups funded by the fossil-fuel industry and the billionaire Koch brothers are rolling out a nationwide assault to repeal state Renewable Electricity Standards (RES), a key component, along with such federal tax incentives as the wind production tax credit (PTC), in driving renewable energy growth in the United States.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently have a state-mandated RES (also known as a Renewable Portfolio Standard). Traditionally, the renewable electricity standard has received bipartisan support. Efforts in recent years to repeal or weaken state renewable standards have largely failed.
But a November 2012 Washington Post investigation revealed that the fossil-fuel and Koch-funded American Legislative Council (ALEC) and the climate-denying Heartland Institute are making this a nationwide priority in 2013.
Still, Jeff Deyette, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called this assault on the renewable standard an "uphill challenge" for ALEC.
Deyette said that while not every state lawmaker is motivated to improve environmental benefits or tackle the climate crisis, most recognize the economic opportunities generated by growth in renewable technologies in their state.
"There are different reasons to support renewable technologies," he said. "I think that's why they've enjoyed such bipartisanship in the past and an important hurdle these opponents have to overcome."
More than half of these policies, Deyette pointed out, have been in place for five or more years and in many cases have already led to substantive industry growth and job creation in states.
"So it gets harder and harder," he added, "when you actually have a certain number of jobs or companies that are showing up at your door saying, 'If you pull the rug out from this policy, my job goes away.'"
Renewable Energy Economic Growth: Not Red or Blue, But Green
When Congress recently extended the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy as part of its agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff, Kansas governor Sam Brownback cheered. A conservative Republican in a conservative state, Brownback has seen firsthand how wind energy has bolstered the Kansas economy.
After the extension, Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag told the Topeka Capital-Journal, "Gov. Brownback is pleased Congress recognized the positive impact the wind PTC has on creating jobs and growing the economy."
In a joint letter to Congress calling for the PTC extension at the beginning of 2012, Republican governor of Iowa Terry Branstad and Brownback called the wind energy sector "an American success story that is helping to build our manufacturing base, create jobs, lower energy costs, and strengthen our energy security."
Urging Congress to extend the PTC last November, Brownback said that the subsidy encouraged $3 billion of wind energy investment in the state in 2012. And in an op-ed co-written with Republican Kansas Senator Jerry Moran, they noted that if the PTC was allowed to expire, "local economies across our state will suffer," with Kansas counties standing to lose $3.7 million annually in payments from wind companies and landowners $4 million annually in additional income from leasing or selling their land for wind farms.