Rooftop solar panels and other distributed-energy tools will radically shake up the power sector, according to an unusually frank report from a utility trade group.
This key article describes the core reason that renewable energy sources like solar and wind power are opposed by conservatives. Renewables have the real potential of upsetting the balance of winners and losers in the economy, and that will have a large impact on the status quo. And it isn’t only US utilities that could be affected, but some of the largest energy companies in the world. Opposition to renewable energy is social and economic, and as such is inherently tied with a conservative vision of America itself.
According to the Grist article, a change to solar will accelerate more rapidly the more widely it is implemented, as traditional power companies must raise rates in the face of declining numbers of customers, at the same time that the new power sources decline in price. Investors aren’t smart enough (or interested enough in long-term numbers) to recognize this change early, and so they are currently acting as a sort of dam for both share prices and consumer prices. But once they begin to see price changes, they will flee and the dam will break.
That’s a terrifying scenario for anyone wedded to keeping the social and financial hierarchy exactly the same, and it’s no wonder that conservatives oppose it.
"Renewable energy subsidies are a waste of money" -James Rust, Heartland Institute
Here’s a simple way to understand where the opposition comes from: Consider that the ethanol industry is the nation’s largest single renewable-energy recipient, but most of its participants are the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Ethanol affects food prices but does not fundamentally change the economic winners and losers. Therefore, while its price is included in arguments against the costs of renewables, it is seldom mentioned by conservative politicians, who focus on wind and solar.
"The net effect is to shrink the economy, not grow it." -David Kreuzner, Heritage Foundation
Wind and solar have the potential to democratize the supply of energy to a large extent, and to shift energy sellers into a mode of energy brokers and managers, with much less profit potential. As the grid is used to share collected energy, or simply to offset daytime demands, the current model of energy sales may be totally disrupted, bankrupting utilities, and putting production into the hands of homeowners or small businesses.
"Global warming has always been a pretext for grasping political control." -Peter Wilson, American Thinker (sic)
This potential undermining of massive corporations by clean technology is seen by the far right as “anti-capitalist.”
Most Americans on the left, and most Americans in general, think of capitalism as a market-based economic system, where upstarts with a good idea can make bank on it. Most on the right, however, see it as our current way of stabilizing society— a system that keeps those with the most capital in firm control. This is essentially an unashamed version of crony capitalism, one that embraces greed.
Perhaps capitalism is all of that— true anti-capitalists may agree with the right’s view, if not the need for it. And many environmentalists do in fact see unbridled capitalist greed as a threat to the planet. But the entrenched right takes this basic understanding much further, and promotes the idea that any environmentalist must oppose a free market, and pines for the destruction of all business.
These are vastly different views of renewable energy and its purpose. In fact, they are vastly different views of the role of capitalism itself. The debate over renewable energy brings these differences to light in ways that few issues can, but only if we look. Very little progress can be made on any energy and environmental issues until these fundamental disagreements are acknowledged and discussed openly.