#ncga: Why the sudden interest in solar energy?

corpwelfOut of the blue, government goodies for solar energy providers has become the rage on Jones Street.  No one really saw this coming.  It’s not really on anyone’s radar as one of the most important issues for state government.  (It couldn’t be some of that grass-topping we wrote about earlier, could it?)

In 2007, a bipartisan group of legislators (including now-US senator Thom Tillis) pushed renewable energy mandates through the General Assembly.  The legislation ensured providers would have to purchase a set amount of “alternative energy” and handed out assorted welfare benefits to “alternative energy” providers.

In 2013, now-Majority Leader Mike Hager tried to kill the mandatesrecognizing them for the expensive, anti-consumer boondoggle that they are.  Speaker Thom Tillis subjected Hager’s bill to a slow-death by burying it in the committee system. 

Fast forward to 2015. We now have an unusual coalition of Democrats, RINOs and some allegedly conservative Republicans trying to extend the corporate welfare benefits for solar energy providers.  Brent Jackson, teaming up with RINOs like Jeff (“Who are you?”) Tarte and Fletcher “Ten Credit Cards” Hartsell?  Conservatives like Jerry Tillman and Ronald Rabin attaching their names to the same bill as Josh Stein and Dan Blue?   What gives?  Will cats and dogs start living together next? 

In the House, Cumberland County’s John Szoka (R) has tried to pass off support for solar energy as free marketeering.  John Locke’s Roy Cordato begs to differ: 

If an industry can only provide its product by using the state to force others to deal with them it is not a industry that can be functional in a truly free market. And this is the case with third party solar power sales. In a recent News and Observer article Rep. John Szoka plugs his so-called “energy freedom” legislation allowing offlemon-the-electric grid third part sales from solar farms directly to consumers by saying “I believe in free markets and I believe in property rights. This allows property owners to use their property as they see fit.”  This is not just about single family homes with panels on their roofs but, as the N&O points out, big consumers like Walmart, Lowes, Target, and Macy’s.

Here’s the problem, users and producers of solar power benefit from a huge number of government granted privileges all of which are necessary in making electricity from solar a viable option to consumers. There are state and federal tax incentives and mandates that the utility companies buy any excess power generated by solar at retail prices, i.e. the same price that it sells it for. But what might be the biggest subsidy stems from the fact that solar panels can only supply electricity when the sun is shining. It requires back-up electricity generation from regular power plants in order to have any chance in the market at all. The next time someone says that solar is a reliable form of energy ask them if, using only the panels, you will be able to light your house at night–other than with a kerosene lamp–heat your house during a blizzard, or cook dinner after 7 in the evening.  This is where the forced subsidy comes in. If you are a user of off-the-grid solar power, the electric company is required by law to connect you to the grid and has to provide you with power during what amounts to more than half of any given day.  This imposes a number of costs on electric companies, which I wouldn’t typically care about, but these costs will all end up as rate hikes for utility customers generally.[…]

I found one Forbes writer who cites comedian Jimmy Fallon as making one of the best arguments against solar and wind energy.

Iain Murray adds some real meat to the costliness argument: solar

[…] The fundamental problem with solar power is that it takes a lot of collection. Sunlight may be free, but gathering it and converting it into power is expensive. How costly?

Very costly. According to findsolar.com, installing solar panels on my home in Virginia would cost me around $30,000. I can get about $9,000 of that back from various government incentives, in the form of a federal tax credit and exemption from property taxes.

Surely, I’ll make my money back in savings on my electric bill, right? Not really.

According to findsolar.com, my average monthly savings will be about $37. Over the 25 years of the panels’ useful life, then, I’ll save about $18,000. I’d only break even after 27 years, two years after I’d need to replace them.

On the other hand, solar power plants might be better than trying to power each house separately. Unfortunately, according to a report by the consulting firm McKinsey, the only place in the world today where solar power plants are cost-competitive without government subsidy is Italy.[…] 

Even the leftist stenographers at the New York Times agree that cronyism and corporate welfare are the only real way to keep solar plants up and running. legis

Remember the ethanol craze of just a few years back?  Ethanol stations were popping up everywhere.  (We had at least two here in little ol’ Moore County.) Now, the tax subsidy has expired.  And the ethanol supply has vanished.

If money can be made doing it, someone will jump out there and do it without government. If there is demand out there, someone will jump out there to meet the demand without the government.  Propping up a dubious industry with funding forcibly extracted from taxpayer wallets is a losing proposition every time.  Republicans need to back the hell out of this twisted game and get back to removing the red-tape shackles and unleashing the creativity and spirit of enterprise in the American people.