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“Deepwater Wind”: America Is Finally Getting Its First Offshore Wind Farm. Conservatives Are Trying To Make Sure It’s The Last

European countries long ago decided to take the long-term view of clean energy. Denmark put up its first wind turbine offshore 24 years ago, in 1991; today, Europe has at least 70 complete wind farms and 2,300 turbines in its waters. The United States is just getting started on catching up to its transatlantic neighbors: by July, Deepwater Wind will have steel in the ground for the first offshore wind farm off of Rhode Island. If all goes according to plan, the Block Island wind farm will begin generating power by fall 2016.

In the U.K., though, wind subsidies are now at risk after the Tories won Britain’s recent elections, sweeping in a new wave of austerity government. (Support for wind and solar development there has historically been stable, however, compared to the U.S.) Just 3 percent of the world’s wind power is based offshore, and the United Kingdom is the leader: They generate half of global offshore wind energy. 

In the U.S., conservatives like to propose funding only for research, which doesn’t help businesses take the leap into entry—the nascent energy source is still several times more expensive to produce than conventional fuels, like oil and gas, that have benefited from over a century of government subsidies.

The industry requires some taxpayer help to overcome the initial costly barrier to entry and absurd logistics in the U.S. market. For example, the U.S. lacks specialized 500-foot ships to carry steel for wind turbines, so supplies and ships must come from Europe. Potential developers have had to work around an obscure trade law that doesn’t let foreign ships that intend to install wind power sail into U.S. ports (in-depth explanation here).

Onshore, the U.S. wind industry is growing faster than any other electricity source, thanks precisely to this kind of investment. The main wind subsidy is the wind production tax credit, which provides 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first ten years of production. But Republican infighting over the tax credit (some, like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley support it, while plenty others don’t) means that it is regularly endangered. Some of that opposition is fueled by fossil fuel trade groups, which have aggressively lobbied against the credit (including the Koch-backed American Energy Alliance). The tax credit expired at the end of 2014; already, wind industry manufacturers scale back their plans when they face uncertainty. It’s a vicious cycle.

Deepwater Wind’s Block Island wind farm is both a less ambitious and less controversial version of another proposed project, the 130-turbine Cape Wind, that’s now sidelined indefinitely because of its biggest critic—the billionaire Bill Koch. In essence, his argument was “not in my backyard.” Koch called the proposed plant “visual pollution” and worried it would hurt his “ability to acquire a special property where I can create a family compound for my children.” The project never gained local support, and, in January, the developer dropped its contracts.

On the other hand, Deepwater Wind will have five turbines spinning 18 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, intended to power 17,000 homes. This one stands a much better chance of survival than Cape Wind. Let’s hope it’s successful.


By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, May 14, 2015

May 16, 2015 Posted by | Clean Energy, Wind Energy | , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Big Green Test”: Conservatives And Climate Change

On Sunday Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary and a lifelong Republican, had an Op-Ed article about climate policy in The New York Times. In the article, he declared that man-made climate change is “the challenge of our time,” and called for a national tax on carbon emissions to encourage conservation and the adoption of green technologies. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within today’s G.O.P., and the absolute opposition to any kind of tax increase, this was a brave stand to take.

But not nearly brave enough. Emissions taxes are the Economics 101 solution to pollution problems; every economist I know would start cheering wildly if Congress voted in a clean, across-the-board carbon tax. But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. A carbon tax may be the best thing we could do, but we won’t actually do it.

Yet there are a number of second-best things (in the technical sense, as I’ll explain shortly) that we’re either doing already or might do soon. And the question for Mr. Paulson and other conservatives who consider themselves environmentalists is whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers, and in particular whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers implemented by the other party. If they aren’t, their supposed environmentalism is an empty gesture.

Let me give some examples of what I’m talking about.

First, consider rules like fuel efficiency standards, or “net metering” mandates requiring that utilities buy back the electricity generated by homeowners’ solar panels. Any economics student can tell you that such rules are inefficient compared with the clean incentives provided by an emissions tax. But we don’t have an emissions tax, and fuel efficiency rules and net metering reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So a question for conservative environmentalists: Do you support the continuation of such mandates, or are you with the business groups (spearheaded by the Koch brothers) campaigning to eliminate them and impose fees on home solar installations?

Second, consider government support for clean energy via subsidies and loan guarantees. Again, if we had an appropriately high emissions tax such support might not be necessary (there would be a case for investment promotion even then, but never mind). But we don’t have such a tax. So the question is, Are you O.K. with things like loan guarantees for solar plants, even though we know that some loans will go bad, Solyndra-style?

Finally, what about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal that it use its regulatory authority to impose large reductions in emissions from power plants? The agency is eager to pursue market-friendly solutions to the extent it can — basically by imposing emissions limits on states, while encouraging states or groups of states to create cap-and-trade systems that effectively put a price on carbon. But this will nonetheless be a partial approach that addresses only one source of greenhouse gas emissions. Are you willing to support this partial approach?

By the way: Readers well versed in economics will recognize that I’m talking about what is technically known as the “theory of the second best.” According to this theory, distortions in one market — in this case, the fact that there are large social costs to carbon emissions, but individuals and firms don’t pay a price for emitting carbon — can justify government intervention in other, related markets. Second-best arguments have a dubious reputation in economics, because the right policy is always to eliminate the primary distortion, if you can. But sometimes you can’t, and this is one of those times.

Which brings me back to Mr. Paulson. In his Op-Ed he likens the climate crisis to the financial crisis he helped confront in 2008. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good analogy: In the financial crisis he could credibly argue that disaster was only days away, while the climate catastrophe will unfold over many decades.

So let me suggest a different analogy, one that he probably won’t like. In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job.

Did I mention that health reform is clearly working, despite its flaws?

The question for Mr. Paulson and those of similar views is whether they’re willing to go along with that kind of imperfection. If they are, welcome aboard.



By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 22, 2014



June 24, 2014 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, Clean Energy, Climate Change | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Can The Kochs Hold Back History?”: You Can Buy A Lie, But You Can’t Make That Lie The Truth

For a time, the press lord William Randolph Hearst did everything in his vast powers to keep the film “Citizen Kane” from finding an audience. He intimidated theater owners, refused to let ads run in his newspapers, and even pressured studio sycophants to destroy the negative.

At first, the titan of San Simeon had his way: the film faded from view after a splashy initial release. But over the years, “Citizen Kane” came to be recognized for the masterpiece it is, and now regularly tops lists as the greatest film ever made.

The modern equivalent of Hearst is the Koch Brothers, David and Charles — known without affection as the Kochtopus. On certain days, depending on the stock market, their combined worth is more than any single American’s, somewhere around $80 billion.

They have used a big part of this fortune to attack the indisputable science on climate change, to buy junk scholars, to promote harmful legislation at the state level, to go after clean, renewable energy like solar, and to try to kill the greatest expansion of health care in decades. Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can cause a lot of havoc.

Yet, while these billionaire industrialists may win in the short term — the Republican Party, their toady, is likely to pick up seats in the House and may take control of the Senate as well — in the larger fight against progress and modernity the Kochs have already lost. Clean energy is here to stay, and no sane political party would try to take away the health care of eight million fellow Americans.

Check that — they’ll try in both instances. According to one study, the Kochs have already spent $61 million on various front groups dedicated to the flat-earth proposition that the globe is not warming. But so far, the only return on that investment is a cohort of people flopping around in the waters of stupidity. About 44 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Tea Party-leaning voters believe there is no solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer, according to the Pew Research Center.

Now, this is not 70 percent who think Donald Duck is really a platypus, though in a way it is. This is 70 percent who have been convinced that the actual hard numbers, that 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in this century, are a hoax. It’s like saying, No, it was not 75 degrees in Atlanta yesterday — that’s just your view.

What this shows is that you can buy a lie, but you can’t make that lie the truth. Over the last nine months, three exhaustive studies have shown that climate change is happening now, and will continue to unfold in real time, with record droughts in the American West, rising seas along the Atlantic coast, and global megastorms so catastrophic they will divert CNN from the missing plane. The climate experts in these studies are the gold standard — from places like the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society. They are not political hacks looking to spin something.

So, the real Sisyphean struggle for the Kochs is against science itself. With the fight against solar — and other alternatives to the carbon-based source of the brothers’ wealth — the Kochs are up against market forces and the inevitability of an idea whose time has come. Across the nation, homeowners with solar have taken advantage of incentives that allow them to sell power they don’t need back to the grid. They get the citizen satisfaction of doing their own small part to reduce emissions, but they also get to tell a big corporate or government entity to stuff it. Once you’ve shown people they can be their own electrical utility, you’ve unleashed something that will be very hard to take away.

The Kochs, whose industries are among the nation’s biggest corporate polluters, are currently funding stealth campaigns to roll back incentives for clean energy. What they’re running up against are American do-it-yourselfers. The future of solar is now, with every homeowner tinkering on a roof, every company looking for tomorrow technology, every market improvement that brings the cost down and effectiveness up.

With their fight against health care, the Kochs are bumping into another wall of inconvenient truths. Not only has Obamacare exceeded expectations for sign-ups in the first year, but it’s projected now to cover more people over 10 years — 25 million — and cost $104 billion less than previously forecast, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

A study by the Annals of Internal Medicine found, in looking at the Massachusetts model for Obamacare, that expanding health insurance appeared to save many lives. Duh. But extrapolated from this report for the nation as a whole, you can make a case that the Affordable Care Act will prevent 24,000 deaths a year. Put another way, about 6,000 people a year will die in red states that refuse to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. There are your death panels.

The Kochs also had funding ties to a campaign to persuade young people not to sign up for health care, hoping to sabotage it with beer parties and scare ads of a creepy Uncle Sam looking at a woman in an examining room. No surprise, the kids saw through it. More than enough millennials got coverage — so many, that premiums may fall in the coming sign-up period.

Next year, the Kochs will have a Congress loaded with crackpots ready to serve their agenda. There will be show hearings, bills will be introduced, meaningless votes will be taken. In the end, health care and clean energy will march on. The Kochs, to close with another film reference, will be like Harold Lloyd in one of the great scenes from the silent movie era — hanging from the hands of a giant clock. It may cost them half a billion dollars to learn that they can’t stop time.


By: Timothy Egan, Contributing O-Ed Writer, The New York Times, May 8, 2014

May 11, 2014 Posted by | Clean Energy, Climate Change, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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