- - Thursday, August 6, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Jean Jacques Rousseau, the philosophical forebear of the left, argued that civilization must be forcibly dismantled and remade because it had corrupted humanity from its original state of noble savagery. Today’s progressives, like Rousseau, would turn back the clock and command rather than persuade us to accept their solutions.

This is clearly evident in the progressive desire to centralize control over energy while reducing its availability and increasing its costs as a way to implement what some of them term an “industrial counterrevolution.” Key to this return to a “cleaner, healthier world” is the coercive use of government spending and mandates to force the utilization of renewable energy such as wind and solar (i.e., “ancient energy”), and to eradicate more recent “corrupting” traditional energy sources, such as oil and coal — regardless of cost and consequence.

Higher energy prices, the impact of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and the growing perception that it’s time to take the training wheels off the wind and solar industries so the market may decide their future have already led a half-dozen states, including my home state of Michigan, to scale back, freeze or eliminate mandated renewable energy standards.

These states aren’t opposed to renewables; Michigan has not only met but exceeded the mandates still in place. Rather, policymakers are concluding that consumer choice and the market will maximize renewable use more efficiently than government fiat.

This conclusion is leading state after state to abandon or modify their support for what are called Renewable Portfolio Standards. These mandates, tax credits and direct subsidies are designed and promoted by the feds to supposedly increase consumer choice and lower costs by forcing the states to require that a certain percentage of their power come from renewables.



This policy has, unfortunately, led to higher energy prices and less choice. Many renewables, from ethanol to wind and solar power generators, are in business today only because of the mandates and economic incentives provided by government. A handful of states have concluded that this has gone on long enough and that the day has come for renewable energy to essentially sing for its supper. It is their view that if there is a growing demand for renewable energy, and if it can be provided at market or near-market rates, producers should compete in the market rather than mainline taxpayer subsidies. Consumers should be allowed to choose among sources when they purchase electricity.

Renewable energy lobbyists, however, prefer mandates to markets in part because consumers have not taken to renewable energy with the alacrity and totality demanded by the “green” ideology. Therefore, the left has abandoned its pretense of consumer choice and opted for consumer compulsion. The left would prefer that the taxpayer-funded “investment” in renewable energy continue and be compounded by ever more onerous federal mandates, notably the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. As punishment for consumers’ energy intransigence, they would force us to pay higher energy costs for electricity and higher prices for goods and services as the increased energy costs are inevitably passed on to purchasers.

The result will be a stealth tax to subsidize the renewable energy industry. The politicians, bureaucrats and greens culpable for foisting this policy upon the citizenry will deny it, claiming consumers are not directly paying these taxes to the government. But when the government compels consumers and taxpayers to subsidize a government policy such as renewable energy — directly or indirectly — the sound of the green moving from your wallet to someone else’s remains the same.

The size of that indirect tax is apparent, if one looks at the current cost of energy to consumers in the 29 states that have adopted the Renewable Portfolio Standards model. According to the US Energy Information Administration, consumers in those state pay 22.9 percent more for energy than citizens of other states. That’s quite a tax.

The alternative is an energy independence policy marshaling the totality of America’s natural resources premised on freedom, federalism, competition and choice: Let consumers decide if renewable energy is actually cleaner and cheaper, or if they are willing to pay more for it even if it remains more expensive. If they are, demand will stimulate private-sector investment and supply. If they aren’t, renewable energy providers can go back to the drawing board to figure out how they can deliver a more attractive product.

Regardless of the answer, costs to and government coercion of consumers in the area of energy policy will be reduced.

The day may not be far off when we will see American energy driven, not by the industrial counterrevolutionary left’s government subsidies, mandates and compulsion, but by consumers empowered by freedom, federalism, competition and choice.

Thaddeus G. McCotter is a former U.S. representative and Michigan state senator.

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