And the loser is…


By Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA (Google Power) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Remember Solyndra, that failed solar tech startup the GOP tried to hang around President Obama’s neck like an albatross? Mitt Romney campaigned in front of the closed Solyndra factory in 2012, trying to deflect attention from his vulture capitalist record at Bain Capital. See, the problem was that Big Gummint was perturbing the economic gods with clean energy subsidies, “stifling free market competition by picking economic winners and losers.”

Yesterday, I concluded a post noting that it is some kind of article of faith on the right that “government shouldn’t pick winners and losers.” Rather than call them hypocrites this fine Sunday morning, let’s just say they apply that principle somewhat unevenly.

The Washington Post this morning looks at the growing threat rooftop solar poses to the big utility companies. Industry executives met in Colorado three years ago to plan how to fight back, Joby Warrick reports:

If demand for residential solar continued to soar, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems, from “declining retail sales” and a “loss of customers” to “potential obsolescence,” according to a presentation prepared for the group. “Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,” it said.

The warning, delivered to a private meeting of the utility industry’s main trade association, became a call to arms for electricity providers in nearly every corner of the nation. Three years later, the industry and its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign to stop a home-solar insurgency that is rattling the boardrooms of the country’s government-regulated electric monopolies.

Those free-market zealots among the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been trying to roll back solar expansion that threatens the fossil fuels industry with “potential obsolescence,” as the Post described it above. They’ve been trying to leverage their influence with Republican lawmakers. The free-marketeers want government help in guaranteeing they stay winners. There’s one big problem:

The average price of photovoltaic cells has plummeted 60 percent since 2010, thanks to lower production costs and more-efficient designs. Solar’s share of global energy production is climbing steadily, and a study last week by researchers from Cambridge University concluded that photovoltaics will soon be able to out-compete fossil fuels, even if oil prices drop to as low as $10 a barrel.

Turns out that instilling that free-market fervor can really bite when you’re operating a government-sanctioned monopoly and even conservatives and evangelicals in red states like Utah like putting solar panels on their church roofs. Trying to impose a solar surcharge offends their free-market sensibilities, so carefully cultivated by the right. Legislative efforts in Indiana and Utah to slow down solar’s expansion by outlawing “net metering” (homeowners selling excess power they generate back to the grid) have failed. “Some of the proposals were virtual copies of model legislation drafted two years ago by the American Legislative Exchange Council,” Warrick writes.

It’s not easy being mean.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Energy, National

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