Newspaper column: Renewable energy — taxpayers and ratepayers pick up the bill coming and going

Solar panels being installed. (Jeff Scheid photo by R-J)

Have you ever watched pigs nudging each other out of the way attempting to see which one can get its snout deepest into the slop trough?

We are seeing a sort of pork scrum at the Legislature in Carson City between the state’s biggest monopoly electric utility and those who install rooftop solar panels that are only profitable due to ratepayer subsidies and tax breaks and government handouts.

The taxpayers get left holding the bag no matter who wins.

This past fall taxpayers shelled out $1.2 million to entice billionaire Elon Musk to open an office for his SolarCity company in Nevada. SolarCity is one of those firms that installs rooftop solar panels.

Residences and businesses that install solar panels contract with billionaire Warren Buffett’s NV Energy under a net metering program. Any excess power they generate goes onto the grid and each kilowatt-hour uploaded is deducted from that month’s bill at the retail rate. But because solar is intermittent and makes it more difficult to balance the grid, state law dictates the total amount of net metering cannot exceed 3 percent of the statewide peak load. That cap is expected to be reached this year, which would shut down any new rooftop installations.

There was a bill before the Legislature to raise the cap to 10 percent, but when NV Energy objected that provision went up in a puff of smoke.

NV Energy, which in the previous Legislature convinced lawmakers to require the closure of all its coal-fired plants and foist all of the cost for doing so and building new renewable and gas-fired generation onto ratepayers, doesn’t like paying retail for power.

After paying SolarCity to open here, will it have to close?

All of this was played out while Sen. Harry Reid, one of the champions of renewable energy and its subsidies, was telling a clean-energy luncheon crowd that renewable energy has been a boon to the state’s economy and jobs.

He claimed the industry has invested $6 billion in the state and created 20,000 jobs.

Of course, he did not bother to note that historically for every renewable energy job created two to four jobs are destroyed because of the high cost of renewable power. Also, every dollar “invested” in renewable energy, usually through tax breaks and subsidies and higher power prices, is a dollar not invested in some other industry.

He also took the time to lambaste the few newspaper editorialists and columnists in the state who dare to disdain his crony capitalism by writing “the most moronic editorials.”

Reid was one of the champions of the state requiring a certain percentage of its electricity come from renewables — 25 percent by 2025, which should cause power bills to increase 6 percent over the next decade. He also pushed Senate Bill 123 that shut down coal-fired power plants.

A recently released study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University for the Nevada Policy Research Institute found SB123 will destroy 2,630 jobs by 2020 and real disposable income will decline by $226 million per year due to increased electricity cost. This pushes up prices across the grid, whether you are a customer of NV Energy or not.

If the pigs at the trough allegory doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps the Bootleggers and Baptists Theory will. This theory holds that moral opposites will combine forces to achieve an objective that serves both.

For example, Baptists demanded alcohol prohibition to protect drunkards from themselves, while bootleggers wanted prohibition to block competition and keep prices higher.

Now, one group claims to want clean air to save the planet, while the other doesn’t want to compete in the free market for capital and with competitive electrical rates.

NV Energy doesn’t mind building its own wind turbines and solar farms, because it gets a return on its equity of about 10 percent when it builds stuff. The company doesn’t like paying retail for subsidized/tax break-driven rooftop solar panels.

Somehow, the renewable backers never calculate the cost associated with intermittent renewables such as wind turbines and solar panels, which must be backed up kWh per kWh by the capital and operating cost of maintaining a fossil fuel-fired generator for when the wind dies down or a cloud passes overhead.

They get us to pay the bill, coming and going. At least we can enjoy watching them squabble.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

24 comments on “Newspaper column: Renewable energy — taxpayers and ratepayers pick up the bill coming and going

  1. nyp says:

    Today’s jobs report: another 223,000 jobs added to the economy in the month of April; unemployment down to 5.4%.

    I blame that job-killing ObamaCare.

  2. Vernon Clayson says:

    Nyp continues his babbling, perhaps he could explain how many of those jobs were direct government jobs, how many were subsidized by government, is the 223,000 number net jobs discounting jobs lost or over and above that? Are they permanent jobs,i.e., as permanent as jobs can be? And that 5.4% rate is as false as the jobs figures.

  3. nyp says:

    I confess that it’s all a great big conspiracy Vern. That common street hustler, as you like to refer to the first African-American President, has reached into the Bureau of Labor Statistics and has manipulated the official job numbers. Looks like Wall Street was fooled once again by the “street hustler.” But you, Vern, know very well that a black man could not possibly preside over 63 straight months of private sector job growth.

    However, even though we all know the numbers were rigged (as usual,) the so-called “official” report says that of the 223,000 non-farm jobs created in April under President Obama, 213,000 were in the private sector and 10,000 were in government.

    Vern, of course, knows better.

  4. Steve says:

    “first African-American President”

    1) this has not happened yet. Barack Obama is (like me) a mutt. Mixed blood from all over the world…his father was from Kenya. My maternal grandfather was from Armenia… This in no way makes me Armenian just as Barack Obama’s father in no way makes him African American

    2) you appear to gauge your voting criteria on the skin color of the candidate….this should be a clear indication that you are racist, nyp.

  5. Winston Smith says:

    Here’s my piss-off of the day:

    The Senate is about to vote next week, apparently not knowing what is in the TPP. What a bunch of shit!

    Oh, I’m sorry, DARPA, Breitbart is not a real media outlet, therefore its info is null and void…

  6. Rincon says:

    Government subsidies for industry generally aren’t advisable, but at least renewable energy has the fig leaf of being a nascent industry with rapidly falling costs. The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, enjoys much greater subsidies, but Conservatives are amazingly silent about them. Maybe they like the smell of smoke.

  7. Subsidies, yes. Greater, no.

  8. Rincon says:

    We’ve been over this one before. We determined that while subsidies per KWH were much higher for renewables, the total government subsidies for fossil fuels are much greater. As a matter of fact, the Gulf subsidy of 1996 for petroleum companies, worth an estimated $67 billion, is probably close to the value of all renewable subsidies put together. If you want, I can list dozens of other fossil fuel subsidies as well.

  9. Steve says:

    OK, figure the subsidy as a percentage of KWH generated.

  10. Rincon says:

    What I care about is how many dollars are being picked from my pocket, period. A subsidy is a subsidy. It makes no sense whatsoever to give a pass to one industry that costs us more money than another. Your bias is showing

  11. Steve says:

    A subsidy for a failing industry is stealing money from your pocket.

    Now, figure them as a percentage of KWH generated.

  12. Rincon says:

    A subsidy for ANY industry is stealing money from my pocket. Why do you insist on giving fossil fuels a free pass?

    You call renewables a failing industry, even though they are growing by leaps and bounds. Presumably, you are of the opinion that they cost more than fossil fuels. If so, the flaw in your logic is that in doing so, you implicitly assume that the mercury in our rivers and lakes, destruction of mountaintops, particulates affecting asthma sufferers in particular (etc.), and especially the waging of war to guard our foreign oil supplies are all insignificant costs. Another implicit assumption is that costs will not continue to drop if renewables are given support, despite the fact that their costs have been falling for our entire lifetimes.

  13. Rincon says:

    Lest you take me too literally, which is your habit, I want to correct my statement that any subsidy is stealing. I should have said, “coming from my pocket.”, not, “stealing from my pocket.” There is such a thing as a reasonable subsidy. The orphan drug research program is an example.

  14. Steve says:

    “Why do you insist on giving fossil fuels a free pass?”

    Where did I say I am giving anyone a “free pass”?

    Do the math.

    OR, better yet. Which industry would fail first with all subsidy money for all of them, removed?

  15. Rincon says:

    As I said, you have a habit of taking things literally. You might make a good lawyer. You obfuscate the truth by playing games with technicalities. Let’s see, you said, “A subsidy for a failing industry is stealing money from your pocket”, but remain absolutely silent about the larger subsidies enjoyed by the fossil fuels industry. I call that giving them a free pass. You can call it what you like.

  16. Steve says:

    Fossil fuel industry is far from a failing one.

    I say you love to obfuscate.
    And ignore and spin and twist and try to change the subject when the topic is obviously not going the way you wish.

    So which is it? Which one fails first without any subsidy at all?

  17. Rincon says:

    Let’s get rid of them both and find out.

  18. Steve says:

    Sure…lets get rid of the regs and restrictions too.

  19. […] whether these calculations take into account the 2013 Legislature’s decision to prematurely shut down all coal-fired power plants in Nevada, a move that already will destroy 2,630 jobs by 2020 and cut real disposable income by […]

  20. Rincon says:

    So you’re willing to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies, which also means that you admit that they exist. We’re making progress!

  21. […] this year The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston released a study of the economic impact of SB123 commissioned by the Nevada Policy Research […]

  22. […] May: The battle between NV Energy and solar panel installers that ended recently in a Public Utilities Commission ruling that has the potential to end the business rooftop solar installing was foreseen in May. […]

  23. […] Reid campaigned vigorously for green energy, bragging about his role in the state investing $6 billion in green energy and creating 20,000 jobs. The projects include […]

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