Fossil Fuels Battle Renewables in the State

As the political influence of renewable-energy increases, fossil fuel interests are taking the battle to the state level, pushing lawmakers to roll back regulations on power plant emissions and other measures to promote clean energy. So report the Washington Post, PV-Tech and the Associated Press, while a New York Times editorial takes energy barons Charles and David Koch to task for pushing a surtax on solar energy.

The Post highlights anti-renewable proposals under consideration in 18 states, including efforts to hobble the Environmental Protection Agency in restricting carbon emissions from power plants. However, it also points to the rising cachet of clean energy advocates, even in Republican strongholds like Kansas.

With the mid-term elections on the horizon, powerful interests on both sides are exercising their might. California billionaire Tom Steyer is heavily backing candidates at the state and federal level who support stricter regulation of power plant emissions.

Battle for Clean Energy in States

Meanwhile, the Koch-brothers and their allies have unleashed their Kracken-like coalition of political organizations, including Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). So far, though, their gains have been mostly symbolic.

The Post offers Kansas as petri dish in which the developing battle lines can be observed. A 2009 state law mandates that utilities generate at least 15% of their electricity through wind and solar by 2016 and 20% by 2020. Koch Industries, utility industry advocate Edison Electric Institute and coal company Peabody Energy are pushing state lawmakers to repeal that mandate.

While the Kansas economy is very dependent on fossil fuels, it also ranks sixth in the country in wind output. The federal Energy Information Administration says coal provided 61% of the state’s electricity in 2013, while wind-generated energy rose by a third last year to account for 19% of the state’s electricity.

Wind farms generate royalties for landowners, and proponent say they also create jobs. Fossil fuel interests argue that renewable mandates and subsidies violate free-market rules and cost residents more than fossil fuels.

Conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who championed wind production tax credits as a U.S. senator has remained on the fence. State GOP leaders anticipated Brownback would not veto a repeal bill, even though they didn’t expect him to publicly support it. Two bills — on delaying renewable mandates and another repealing them — passed in the Kansas Senate but died in the state House.

Renewable foes in Kansas have vowed to keep fighting the state mandates, and their counterparts in states like Ohio and West Virginia are mounting similar anti-regulation efforts. In Ohio, which generated 69% of its electricity from coal in 2013, clean energy advocates fear the GOP dominated legislature will reverse the state’s renewable-energy standards. However, they see hope in Republican Gov. John Kasich, who like Brownback has backed renewable energy.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, the fight has centered around proposed EPA regulations. A bill to prevent them was amended to make it mostly symbolic.

Meanwhile, AP reports, a federal court in San Francisco last week ordered the EPA to release ground-level ozone standards by Dec. 1 and finalize the rules by Oct. 1, 2015. That followed legal action by environmentalists again the White House for failing to meet the March 2013 deadline under the federal Clean Air Act to issue a new standard.

The last ozone standards were issued by the Bush administration in 2008, sparking legal action from environmental groups that wanted stricter measures and a promise from the Obama administration to strengthen them.

Tax on Solar Energy Users 

In its editorial, the Times noted that the Kochs have finally found a tax they like: a surcharge on solar energy users who sell electricity back to their utility, which 43 states require the utilities to do. The Kochs and other fossil fuel interests have an obvious reason to fight renewables, as they see clean energy as a looming threat to their bottom line.

The Times doesn’t have much sympathy for lost utility profits, and it takes issue with the misleading ads coming from the Kochs and their allies. Ultimately, it sees this as an issue of profits versus the environment.

PV-Tech also focuses on the solar surtax in its piece. It cites Matt Feinstein, a Lux Research analyst, who sees an interpretation of property law that could enable such a tax in Arizona — where battles between utilities and solar companies have raged — as another example of the hostility of the fossil fuel industry towards solar power. While solar panels owned by residents would remain exempt, systems leased through companies like SolarCity and SunRun would be subject to taxation.

To read the full Washington Post article cited in this story, click here.

To read the full AP story cited in this story, click here.

To read the full New York Times article cited in this story, click here.


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