Koch Brothers, fossil fuel interests take on renewables, and that benefits nuclear industry too

Koch Industries headquarters. Their anti-renewables, pro-coal campaign could leave the sky as black as their building...

Koch Industries headquarters. Their anti-renewables, pro-coal campaign could leave the sky as black as their building…

We’ve written a lot in recent weeks about the nuclear industry’s recent change in focus, primarily through astroturf front groups like Nuclear Matters and corporate funded pseudo-environmental groups like Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (and, for good reason, we’ll add the Breakthrough Institute–which unlike the others is not industry funded–with its recent absurd diatribe on nuclear power and climate), from building new reactors to trying to prevent the shutdown of uneconomic, not to mention unsafe, aging existing reactors.

The nuclear industry is acting out of self-interest, of course, and they say that if clean renewable energy gets in the way, then it has to be pared back. But most nuclear utilities are at least somewhat invested in renewables themselves, and those are perhaps not their top target. As we’ve noted, what they really want is some form of electricity re-regulation or other actions that will allow them to force expensive nuclear power on ratepayers, whether or not renewables, and currently natural gas, also continue to operate. (For its part, Exelon today came up with a new approach to protecting its reactors; it wants to buy the DC-based utility Pepco, which has no reactors and much of its operations are in regulated markets, which would in essence force Pepco ratepayers to make up for the losses piled up by Exelon’s nuclear reactors).

But it’s important to understand this in a larger context, and that is that fossil fuel interests–especially coal–have many of the same problems as nuclear interests do. And those coal interests, especially the increasingly infamous Koch Brothers, are directly targeting renewables in a way that the nuclear utilities have not quite done yet–although Exelon’s shameful attacks on wind power come close; here is a recent blog post from American Wind Energy Association pushing back against Exelon’s increasingly heated rhetoric ).

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist finally found a tax he likes: on solar panels.

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist finally found a tax he likes: on solar panels.

The Koch Brothers and other extreme right-wing groups like American Legislative Exchange Council, Grover Norquist’s anti-tax group, Karl Rove’s Americans for Prosperity and others are taking dead aim on renewables, especially solar, which they correctly see as an existential threat to coal, and they have a lot of money to spend pursuing their agenda. Their approach is at the state level, where they are trying hard to roll back state Renewable Energy Standards and attacking net metering programs in most states; those allow solar-powered homeowners to sell back excess electricity to utilities.

In this case, what’s good for coal is also good for nuclear. Both represent the nation’s “baseload” power, and both are using the baseload argument as part of their approach. Of course, both also understand that the baseload power model is a 20th century conceit and that extending that model only serves to undercut the growth of clean renewables. Not that the Koch Brothers, ALEC and the nuclear industry actually care about clean energy, of course…

States facing challenges to renewable energy laws. Graph from LA Times.

States facing challenges to renewable energy laws. Graph from LA Times.

So, the takeaway from this new assault on renewables from the fossil fuel side is this: if they succeed, they will also succeed in keeping uneconomic and obsolete nuclear reactors running too. Thus, it is critical that anti-nuclear activists engage fully to stop them. Most likely, they are already working against you in your state. See the graphic from the LA Times to the right to see what states these attacks are already in play.

Fortunately, some of the nation’s leading newspapers have caught on. The Los Angeles Times ran this piece on April 19, Koch brothers, big utilities attack solar, green energy policies, citing an Edison Electric Institute official, “The institute has warned power companies that profits could erode catastrophically if current policies and market trends continue. If electricity companies delay in taking political action, the group warned in a report, ‘it may be too late to repair the utility business model.'”

Saving that business model–and using more fossil fuels and nuclear power–is what the anti-renewables campaigns are all about.

ClimateProgress followed up with a post pointing out just how fixated ALEC and its partners are on this campaign:

“While ALEC was highly unsuccessful at actually passing anti-clean energy bills it advanced at the state level last year, a new document obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy reveals the intensity that ALEC is bringing to 2014 in its anti-environmental efforts — which include not just stifling clean energy, but opposing EPA coal regulations related to public health, promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, and working toward industry-friendly fracking rules.

“The spreadsheet from March, 2014 lays out 131 bills that ALEC is tracking — even though ALEC has claimed that it doesn’t track its model legislation. According to analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy, eleven of the bills attempt to amend net metering laws. Currently 43 states and the District of Columbia have net metering policies. Thirty-one of the bills relate to renewable energy production, with 29 states and the District of Columbia currently employing some form of RPS.”

The Koch Brothers and nuclear industry's worst nightmare: a solar-powered house in Massachusetts.

The Koch Brothers and nuclear industry’s worst nightmare: a solar-powered house in Massachusetts.

And as its lead editorial last Sunday (the 28th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster), the New York Times fired back at the Koch Brothers  from its opening paragraph: “At long last, the Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have found a new tax they can support. Naturally it’s a tax on something the country needs: solar energy panels.”

The editorial concluded:

“The utilities hate this requirement [net metering], for obvious reasons. A report by the Edison Electric Institute, the lobbying arm of the power industry, says this kind of law will put “a squeeze on profitability,” and warns that if state incentives are not rolled back, “it may be too late to repair the utility business model.”

“Since that’s an unsympathetic argument, the utilities have devised another: Solar expansion, they claim, will actually hurt consumers. The Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest utility, funneled large sums through a Koch operative to a nonprofit group that ran an ad claiming net metering would hurt older people on fixed incomes by raising electric rates. The ad tried to link the requirement to President Obama. Another Koch ad likens the renewable-energy requirement to health care reform, the ultimate insult in that world. “Like Obamacare, it’s another government mandate we can’t afford,” the narrator says.

“That line might appeal to Tea Partiers, but it’s deliberately misleading. This campaign is really about the profits of Koch Carbon and the utilities, which to its organizers is much more important than clean air and the consequences of climate change.”

While the nuclear industry has publicly stayed clear of the Koch Brothers, et al. campaign–the industry tries to argue reactor shutdowns would lead to increased carbon emissions (of course, if reactors were replaced by renewables and energy efficiency, carbon emissions would drop even further), which is clearly not a concern for the Koch’s, the fact remains that nuclear would benefit just as much from any success in their campaign as would the coal industry.

NIRS is prepared to offer support for activists fighting the anti-renewables efforts by mobilizing people in individual states to participate in the battles. If you’re in one of those states whose renewable energy policies are under assault and it would be useful to your group for us to mobilize our network in your state, contact us.

In the meantime, remember that many states’ Renewable Energy Standards include energy efficiency programs as well. Today, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy released a new report showing that four effective and proven energy efficiency measures would reduce carbon emissions by 26% and electricity demand by 25%, enabling the shutdown of as many as 494 power plants, by 2030–at no net cost to the economy. Add in a lot of new renewables and you have the Koch Brothers and nuclear industry’s worst nightmares–and our nation’s and planet’s sweetest dreams–come true.

Michael Mariotte

April 30, 2014

CORRECTION: the original version of this article incorrectly implied that the Breakthrough Institute is, like Nuclear Matters and C2ES, funded by nuclear industry interests. That has now been corrected in the post above revised May 12, 2014. The Breakthrough Institute’s funders list shows no industry contributions of any kind.

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/04/30/koch-brothers-take-on-renewables/

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