- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2015

President Obama has engaged in unprecedented spending on wind and solar power, and argues they’re key to getting the U.S. off of fossil fuels, but recent studies have raised new questions about just how much the so-called green energy sources will cost taxpayers.

A report from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance argues that heavy government subsidies for solar power — including spending from Mr. Obama’s 2009 stimulus package — have distorted the market and led to an artificial demand for solar energy across the country. Financial institutions, in turn, have made their own investments because of the high level of government subsidies, creating a “bubble” that will burst when federal and state backing begins to dry up, the study claims.

“For [investors] making money, the best type of investment to go with nowadays is something the government is doing because, in the end, the government is just going to use taxpayer money, no matter what the investment is, good or bad,” said Michi Iljazi, communications and policy manager at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

Taxpayers already have lost money on government investments into solar power. Most notably, taxpayers were stuck with a $530 million tab when solar giant Solyndra went bankrupt in 2011.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance study makes the case that private investors are pouring money into the solar industry because government backing is propping up the market. When subsidies end and private investments slow, the government may be unwilling to let the industry sink and could use taxpayer money to keep it afloat.

The study comes as the White House doubles down on its clean-energy agenda, and as proponents of wind and solar power push for those fuels to take the place of coal, which increasingly is being phased out by Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Last month, Mr. Obama laid out a plan for the U.S. to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources other than hydropower by 2030. The nation currently gets just 7 percent of its power from those sources.

“These are very ambitious goals, a near tripling for the United States,” Mr. Obama said last month. “This shows that the world’s major economies can begin to transcend some of the old divides and work together to confront the common challenge that we face, something that we have to work on for future generations.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar sector’s leading trade group, did not respond to a request for comment.

There also are fresh questions about the cost of wind power, the beneficiary of heavy federal spending and generous tax credits under this administration.

A recent report from the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University claims that the actual cost of generating wind power is about 48 percent higher than proponents claim. The study’s authors examined factors such as subsidies, needed infrastructure spending and other issues they say are often overlooked.

“We refer to the ‘true cost’ of wind as the price tag consumers and society as a whole pay both to purchase wind-generated electricity and to subsidize the wind energy industry through taxes and government debt,” said Ryan Yonk, one of the report’s authors. “After examining all of these cost factors and carefully reviewing existing cost estimates, we were able to better understand how much higher the cost is for Americans.”

The wind industry pushed back hard against the report.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) argues that because Utah State’s Institute of Political Economy gets funding from the Koch brothers, the study inevitably was going to paint wind power in the worst possible light.

The AWEA raised several major concerns with the study, including that it failed to recognize other sources of energy also benefit from government subsidies.

“The Koch-funded study says that the cost of federal and state incentives for wind should be considered when looking at the cost of wind, but does not note that other sources of energy receive similar incentives,” said Shauna Theel, AWEA’s deputy director of digital media, in a blog post on the group’s website.

“For instance, it states that ‘state and local policies alike have brought in lavish subsidies for wind power developers in Texas,’ but does not note that Texas has also provided tax incentives for many energy sources, such as drilling for natural gas,” she wrote.

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