Homeowners and businesses that wish to generate their own cheap, renewable energy now have a force of conservative political might to contend with, and the Koch brothers are leading the charge. The L.A. Times, to its credit, found the positive spin to put on this: Little old solar "has now grown big enough to have enemies."
The escalating battle centers over two ways traditional utilities have found to counter the rapidly growing solar market: demanding a share of the power generated by renewables and opposing net metering, which allows solar panel users to sell the extra electricity they generate back to the grid -- and without which solar might no longer be affordable. The Times reports on the conservative heavyweights making a fossil fuel-powered effort to make those things happen:
The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation's largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.
...The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a membership group for conservative state lawmakers, recently drafted model legislation that targeted net metering. The group also helped launch efforts by conservative lawmakers in more than half a dozen states to repeal green energy mandates.
"State governments are starting to wake up," Christine Harbin Hanson, a spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, said in an email. The organization has led the effort to overturn the mandate in Kansas, which requires that 20% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources.
"These green energy mandates are bad policy," said Hanson, adding that the group was hopeful Kansas would be the first of many dominoes to fall.
The group's campaign in that state compared the green energy mandate to Obamacare, featuring ominous images of Kathleen Sebelius, the outgoing secretary of Health and Human Services, who was Kansas' governor when the state adopted the requirement.
What's especially disappointing is that for a while now, we've been hearing about how solar power is actually gaining traction in red states, with conservatives switching the focus from that liberal scourge, renewable energy, to something their base hates even more: taxes. Even Barry Goldwater Jr. has spoken out against the idea of allowing utilities to charge a monthly fee to the owners of rooftop solar panels, or what he and other advocates refer to as a "solar tax."
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum bemoans the resurgence of knee-jerk opposition to solar:
There are dozens of good reasons that we should be building out solar as fast as we possibly can—plummeting prices, overdependence on foreign oil, poisonous petrostate politics, clean air—but yes, global warming is one of those reasons too. And since global warming has now entered the conservative pantheon of conspiratorial hoaxes designed to allow liberals to quietly enslave the economy, it means that conservatives are instinctively opposed to anything even vaguely related to stopping it. As a result, fracking has become practically the holy grail of conservative energy policy, while solar, which improves by leaps and bounds every year, is a sign of decay and creeping socialism.
Compared to that, even Goldwater's insistence that utilities are anti-free market ("Choice means competition. Competition drives prices down and the quality up. The utilities are monopolies. They're not used to competition. That's what rooftop solar represents to them") may not be enough to sway the rhetoric back in solar's favor.