- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican (and the party’s gubernatorial nominee) must be gluttons for punishment.

Mandates to buy things - pushed by Washington - have fouled the political air. The public, which is shown in polls to hate Obamacare, hate most the part that obligates them to buy health insurance. What else do they despise? The ban on the incandescent light bulb, which begins to take effect in 2012 and will force everyone to buy higher-priced mercury-filled compact fluorescents for the rest of their lives. More than a few people hope for a repeal of both measures after the November elections.

So Americans are tired of the dictating, but what do the aforementioned senators do? They dictate more, with a proposed law that will force you to procure part of your electricity from windmills, solar farms and other costly sources. It’s called a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), brought to you by politicians who think they know what’s good for you.

It works this way: The nation’s biggest utilities (think Exelon, Duke Energy, Xcel Energy), which supply the majority of the country’s power, are coerced into generating a minimum percentage of their electricity from alternative energy. It’s 15 percent under the Bingaman-Brownback bill. It costs much more for these resources - even after heavy subsidies from government - so the utilities must pass on the rate increases to their customers.

A study by the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research found that states with their own binding renewable electricity standards have 40 percent higher electricity prices than do states without such mandates. It is impossible to determine how much the extra costs are attributable to an RES (they are still relatively new), but the states that have them - mostly on the West Coast and in the upper Midwest and the Northeast - are generally known for greater government energy-market regulation than are those who don’t have them - mostly in the South. You get the picture.

But the implications won’t stop with the rise you see on your monthly power bill. Business and industry, which provide the products and services you consume every day, will not absorb these extra costs for the overall cause to “go green.” They will instead incorporate them in their charges to you.

So also will governments face larger electric bills, with schools, facilities and public buildings hit with the additional charges. There goes more spending of taxpayer dollars, again.

And don’t forget: Politicians love and alternative-energy companies need the subsidies that keep the solar and wind businesses alive. Without that massive infusion from taxpayers, they - the lawmakers without ribbon-cuttings and the rent-seekers without corporate welfare - could not survive.

Indeed, this summer, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) showed how dependent alternative energy interests are on taxpayers after the Senate omitted a national Renewable Electricity Standard from its energy bill. In a July 27 press release, AWEA stated, “The U.S. wind industry is in distress. Today we announced that with only 700 megawatts added in the second quarter, wind power installations to date this year have dropped by 57 percent and 71 percent from 2008 and 2009 levels, respectively, and manufacturing investment also continues to lag below 2008 and 2009 levels. An RES is a critical component to ensure the U.S. wind industry thrives.”

Understand? Squiggly light bulbs don’t sell without a government mandate. Windmills don’t sell without a mandate. And every other harebrained energy-generating scheme (like chicken-excrement incinerators) doesn’t sell without a mandate. Yet in about 30 states they get them - and subsidies, too.

Unfortunately, there may be enough of Mr. Bingaman’s and Mr. Brownback’s Senate colleagues to get a national renewable electricity standard passed - maybe even during a lame-duck session this year. While it doesn’t surprise that nearly all the Democrats are on board, Reuters reports that support from several Republicans could make a filibuster shutoff easy. The news service identified Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Nevada’s John Ensign, Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, and Iowa’s Charles E. Grassley as members who have backed RESs in the past and might do so again.

Pretty amazing in this electoral season when “Throw the bums out” is the theme because people are fed up with government diktats. Will the Beltway establishment ever get it?

Paul Chesser is a special correspondent for the Heartland Institute.

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