Fossil Fuel Industry's Tired Battle Against Clean Energy is Also a Losing One

Source: Alternative Energies

Source: Alternative Energies

The assault on successful renewable energy legislation continues, long after the facts have proven that state renewable policies deliver clean, affordable, and reliable energy solutions that the majority of Americans support. Apparently, the fossil fuel industry and its so-called “free market” allies didn’t get the memo.

There’s a great line in the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s 2000 blockbuster Gladiator where a soldier says to his general, as they are about to slaughter an overmatched foe, “People should know when they’re conquered.” The general replies, “Would you? Would I?”

So I can’t really blame the fossil fuel industry for fighting old battles in an effort to undo approaches that have increased investment in renewable energy in states around the country, created thousands of jobs, and continue to lower energy costs with each passing day.

The usual targets of their attacks are state laws that require a certain percentage of the state’s total energy generation to come from renewable sources like solar, wind, or hydropower. Ohio is the most recent battleground, where state legislators began hearing testimony last week on S.B. 310, a law that would freeze Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards at their 2014 levels. Sometimes called renewable portfolio standards (RPS) or renewable energy standards (RES), these laws are in place in 30 states. They have not only proven economically successful across the country, but they are popular in both red and blue states alike.

Just last month, for example, a scientific poll found that Kansas’ 2009 renewable energy law enjoys overwhelming support across political lines: 73% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, and 82% of Democrats support the law. In fact, two-thirds of those polled said they would support increasing the state's renewable energy law, even if it increased their energy bills.

This is Kansas, mind you – not California – whose State Legislature is virtually 100% conservative Republican.

In Texas, which is the largest generator of wind energy in the country, the Republican comptroller has touted the state RPS as an economic driver: “After the RPS was implemented, Texas wind corporations and utilities invested $1 billion in wind power, creating jobs…and increasing the rural tax base.”

Everyone knows that Texas’ history is deeply rooted in oil and gas. But the state RPS is popular among elected officials that have witnessed the remarkable economic boom it sparked. Texas has already surpassed the RPS goal set for 2015. More than 1,300 companies employ more than 100,000 Texans in industries directly and indirectly related to renewable energy.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission concluded that mass deployment of wind reduces the price of electricity for the entire market – each 1,000 MW of wind lowers the wholesale price of electricity by $2.38/MWh.

Colorado’s program has also been a success. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that the state’s RPS is supporting nearly 4,000 direct and indirect jobs and generating a billion dollars in capital investment along with millions in leasing revenue for landowners who benefit from the policy.

There are other analyses, too, that show that RPS laws actually reduce energy prices, and the overall cost of renewable energy continues to fall. Solar panel prices dropped 60% between 2011 and mid-2012 – and they continue to plummet. Austin Energy is in talks to purchase half a billion dollars of solar energy from SunEdison at an astoundingly cheap $50/MWh (for comparison, natural gas is currently priced at more than $65/MWh).

But still, the attacks keep coming, full of questionable studies from fossil fuel-funded think tanks.

I can’t blame them. I’ve been fighting for what I believe in for decades, and I’ve had more defeats than wins. But I never gave up, and neither will the fossil fuel companies. What’s different now, however, is that the evidence against them is so convincing that voters, energy customers, and most everyone else recognize that opposition to renewable energy is based on lost corporate profits. Cries of “higher energy costs” and “lost jobs” are no longer credible arguments against the clean energy revolution. They may never know they’ve been conquered, but everyone else will.

This commentary originally appeared on our Energy Exchange blog

This entry was posted in Environment, Legislation, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Solar, Wind. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

2 Comments

  1. Joel Keller
    Posted April 15, 2014 at 9:01 AM | Permalink

    Some questions:

    1. Total Cost of Ownership for solar and wind vs. NG / Coal? How do they compare?
    2. Dead birds and other species – what's the real impact on their ecosystems?
    3. Maintenance of 100 6 MW wind turbines vs. 1 600 MW NG power plant both in $$ and manpower? Any particular increased risk in maintaining turbines mounted on 100 foot high towers?

    Just curious.

  2. Posted April 17, 2014 at 1:30 PM | Permalink

    Joel, you’re right that there are many factors to consider and it’s hard to measure the full environmental and economic cost and impact of any energy source. But as the U.S. transitions toward cleaner energy resources, we feel that the overall price humans will pay will be much lower in the future, particularly as traditional fuel prices rise and wind and solar technologies advance.

    In some markets, electricity from wind now costs less than electricity from coal at around $65 a megawatt-hour, compared to coal at about $68 a megawatt-hour, and across the board the clean energy sector creates three times as many jobs as fossil fuels. Not to mention, if electricity markets were to account for the true costs of electricity (including societal and health costs), renewable energy would be the most cost-competitive option.

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