By Marita Noon
The wind energy industry has been having a hard time. The taxpayer funding that has kept it alive for the last twenty years is coming to an end, and those promoting the industry are panicking.
Perhaps this current wave started when one of Big Wind's most noted supporters, T. Boone Pickens, said in an MSNBC interview , "I'm in the wind business…. I lost my ass in the business." But the industry's fortunes didn't get any better when the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial titled, "Gouged by the wind ," in which they stated: "With natural gases not far from $2 per million BTU, the competitiveness of wind power is highly suspect." Citing a study on renewable energy mandates, the WSJ noted that states with renewable energy mandates "paid 31.9% more for electricity than states without them."
A comprehensive article in the Financial Times concluded that the "US renewables boom could turn into a bust," the enthusiasm for renewables "could fizzle out," the US wind industry is stalling and may go into reverse," and "governments all over the world have been curbing support for renewable energy."
Michael Liebreich of the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance says, "With a financially stressed electorate, it's really hard to go to them and say: 'Gas is cheap, but we've decided to build wind farms for no good reason that we can articulate.'" Christopher Blansett , alternative-energy sector analyst for the Best on the Street survey, says, "People want cheap energy. They don't necessarily want clean energy."
As the Financial Times reports, time-limited subsidy programs "face an uphill battle." The biggest US program set to expire this year is the production tax credit (PTC) for onshore wind power, which "is the most important factor behind the fourfold expansion of US wind generation since 2006." Four recent attempts in Congress to extend it have failed."
A wind turbine manufacturer quoted in the Financial Times article says, "If the PTC just disappears, the industry will collapse." Regarding United Technologies plans to sell its wind turbine business, chief financial officer Greg Hayes admitted: "We all make mistakes."
Despite twenty years of taxpayer funding, says the Financial Times, "Most of these technologies are unable to stand on their own commercially, particularly in competition with a resurgent natural gas industry that has created a supply glut and driven prices to 10-year lows." The WSJ opines: "the tax subsidy has sustained the industry on a scale that wouldn't have been possible if they had to follow the same rules as everyone else." A level playing field would mean that wind developers would also lose its exemptions from environmental and economic laws that all other businesses must abide by.
It is precisely the fear of having to play by "the same rules as everyone else" that must have propelled the anti-fossil fuels Checks and Balances Project to dig deep to unearth a "confidential" document . The brainstorming document was designed to trigger conversation during an initial meeting of grassroots folks who share the common goal of compelling wind energy to follow the same economic, environmental and scientific rules. While the meeting was held February 1-2, the document's author didn't attend (but I did) and his ideas received little attention, months later our little meeting was suddenly in the news.
On May 8, many meeting attendees received calls from several publications, including the National Journal, Washington Times and Bloomberg News – none of whom ultimately ran a story. However, The Guardian did run a story that was picked up and expanded on by Environment & Energy (whose reporter also to a few of us), HuffPost , Tree Hugger , Climate Progress , and others. (Interestingly, Climate Progress and Tree Hugger remove any comment in opposition to wind energy as soon as it is posted.) High Country News also ran an original story that was trigged by the Checks and Balances press release.
These sources resulted in some form of the story being blasted all over the Internet. The wind energy industry panic certainly explains the sudden interest. But why our little group? Washington Examiner columnist, Timothy Carney, provides the answer : "AWEA plans 'continued deployment of opposition research through third parties to cause critics to have to respond,' the battle plan states. In other words: When people attack AWEA's subsidies, AWEA might feed an unflattering story on that person to some ideological or partisan media outlet or activist group."
The members of this growing "same rules for everyone" coalition are the people who have attacked the subsidies. Our collaborative actions have helped block the PTC extension efforts. And so, through "third party" pro-wind activists, the AWEA has fed "an unflattering story" to a "partisan media outlet."
A common claim in the news stories is that we are actually an oil-and-gas funded entity. They've tied us to the Koch Brothers. We all wish. Apparently they cannot believe that individuals and local groups can think for themselves and impact public policy, without a puppet master telling us what to do and say.
In fact, the group has no funding. As we began to email back and forth over the sudden reporter interest, one meeting attendee quipped: "My trip was funded, in part, by MY brother, who donated frequent flyer miles for my trip. I can assure you that my brother is not part of the Koch family. I paid for the rest of the trip out of my own pocket."
Yet, the reporters seemed determined to find a funding link. I told the Bloomberg reporter that we each paid our own way, the meeting was held in a budget hotel outside of DC (unlike the AWEA meeting held at taxpayer and ratepayer expense at the prestigious La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, CA), and we each had to pay for our own transportation, food and lodging. My comments never made it into print. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I am the executive director of companion organizations that do receive funding from oil and gas companies, as well as many individual donors. But like the others, I was invited to the wind meeting as an individual, not as a member of any organization.)
Additionally, we are not even a formal group. We met to consider forming a group. The "leaked" memo addresses finding a group that might absorb us, affiliate with us, or align with us.
Attendees brought their individual issues, observations, and successes. Each contributed important insights. Some viewed health impacts as the most important topic, others, economics – still others turbine setback distances, or bird deaths or land use. Others, including the meeting's organizer, John Droz, believe that the science – or in the case of Big Wind, the lack thereof – is the best weapon. Other reasons to oppose wind come down to government use of taxpayer money to support something that raises electricity prices, based on the failed hypothesis of dangerous man-made global warming.
Because of the meeting, attendees now know we are not alone, and we can call on one another for insight and advice, and to ensure far greater strength in numbers. However, without Checks and Balances director Gabe Elsner "discovery" and subsequent "exposure" of the "secret memo," we'd still be just loosely affiliated individuals and small citizens' groups. So we owe Elsner a debt of gratitude. His attack has emboldened us and helped others find us! A representative from the Blue Mountain Alliance sent Droz an email stating, "I probably need to send them a thank you note for leading me to you and your efforts."
After the murmurings became known, meeting attendee Paul Driessen wrote a data-filled column, "Why we need to terminate Big Wind subsidies." It garnered more than 700 Facebook "likes" on Townhall.com , suggesting that many readers had recommended it to friends – and friends had recommended it to friends. Within just a few days, his column was all over the Internet.
Wind energy has more opposition than most people realize, and Elsner, who has served as the "third party" in the AWEA strategy, has enabled us to find many more like-minded citizen-voters. While a few attendees at the DC meeting were concerned about all the publicity, attorney Brad Tupi, who has represented citizens victimized by wind energy projects, responded: "I would plead guilty to participating in a meeting of concerned citizens opposed to wasteful, unproven, inefficient wind energy. I would agree that we are interested in coordinating with other reputable organizations, and I personally would be honored to work with the Heartland Institute and others."
If you do not support industrial-scale, tax-payer-funded wind-energy projects that are promoted based on ideology and emotion, rather than facts and sound science, you can benefit from affiliating with us. Dr. Droz has a wonderful presentation full of helpful information. A few of the many websites represented by meeting attendees include: Illinois Wind Watch , Coalition for Sensible Siting , Energy Integrity Project , and Citizen Power Alliance .
The lesson to be learned from the attack on these hard-working citizens is that we little people can make a difference! We've got the rich subsidy-seeking wind-energy supporters running scared – along with the crony capitalism that accompanies them. Remember, "If the PTC just disappears" – meaning if we do not keep giving Big Wind taxpayer dollars – "the industry will collapse." Your phone call or email to a Senator or Congressman , such as Steve King or Dave Reichert who recently came out in support of the PTC , can make a difference. Tell them, as the WSJ said, "If the [Republican] Party is serious about tax reform … it will vote to take wind power off the taxpayer dole."
It is time for the AWEA and the politicians who support the PTC to explain why higher electricity costs, human health impacts, substantial loss of property values in rural communities, dead bats and birds, and increased national debt are good for America and her taxpayers!