Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wow… Green Energy.

Every once in awhile you learn, well after the fact, that Republican governmental officeholders sold you out on some issue of which you weren’t even aware. In such cases, you’ll read how Republicans felt they made the best deal they could, and of the benefits they supposedly obtained. But in the end you’ll find they’ve committed your state or nation to some path that will substantially undermine your liberties or the economy - or both.

As an example (maybe you’ve heard of this one), it was a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, who ushered in a new peril to our nation, by incorporating an individual mandate into his health care “reforms” for Massachusetts. Romney proclaimed this would lead to lower health care costs for the citizens of his state (which it didn’t) by eliminating (which it likewise didn’t) all the emergency room free riders who weren’t buying health insurance. But while Romneycare didn’t solve those problems, it did establish the concept – later embraced by Obamacare – that government could compel citizens to purchase certain services. Right now, a lot of us are praying the Supreme Court will rescue us from that notion.

In a similar vein, I was recently troubled to learn that in 2007, under Governor Ted Strickland, Ohio committed itself to accelerating down the path of utilizing “renewable energies.”

This was accomplished under the Energy, Jobs and Progress Proposal which sailed through the General Assembly as Senate Bill 221. As far as I can find, only one person, a Republican, ever voted against it on either the House or Senate floor.

Now perhaps I just slept through this matter, and this is old news to everyone else. But dang. I sure didn’t know my state had decided to compel utility companies to gradually increase the share of electrical generation they derive from “renewable energies” to a level of 12.5% by 2025. (According to the schedule, utilities are presently required to be at a 1% share.) Moreover, while there’s dispute over what qualifies as a renewable energy, by law, at least 1% of the eventual 12.5% will have to come from solar energy.

If that wasn’t troubling enough, the state of Ohio has also mandated utility companies to raise the “efficiency” of their energy generation by 12.5% by the use of “advanced energy” technologies. If the utilities fail to increase their efficiencies by the required amount, then they’re required to increase the share of their generation by “renewable energies” by whatever percentage they have fallen short.

This means, if power companies can’t produce enough power from “renewable energies” – for instance, maybe it’ll be too cloudy some month – then their only recourse will be to produce less energy from other sources (coal). By producing less total energy, the utilities will then be able to achieve the mandated percentage share derived from “renewable energies.” In other words, you might experience some brown outs so an arbitrarily chosen “green” standard can be met.

At the time of this legislative act, the General Assembly was dominated by Republicans, 21-12 in the Senate and 53-46 in the House, and led by House Speaker Jon Husted and Senate President Kevin DeWine. (Heard those two names lately?) This Republican leadership apparently decided it’d be fine, while they were attending to other utility issues, to not only predict what kind of efficiencies power generators should be achieved in the future, but also to insist on having those predictions met. Additionally, to placate the Democrats, the Republicans agreed to gradually force utilities into generating an eighth of their power from “renewable energies.” All so they could portray themselves as being suitably trendy.

Keep in mind, there’s no reason to believe this General Assembly was overly populated with qualified experts on the subject of power generation. In fact, for a laugh sometime, go research the occupations listed by our state’s legislators. You’ll find a bunch of union officials, educators, insurance agents, and realtors, although the most common cited occupation is probably “legislator.” Power engineers, you’ll find, are in short supply.

All the same, in the absence of sufficient conservative influences, lawmakers will invariably follow the urge to dictate outcomes which would otherwise be determined, quite properly, by free market interactions. So just as Congress did in legislating the CAFE standards, arbitrarily telling car makers how their cars should and would run in the future (whether or not enabling technologies would be available, and with indifference to the desires of car buyers), the General Assembly similarly told the utilities how they should and would generate their electricity.

Of course, there were other players in this drama. Besides the legislators, there were the power companies, the PUCO, Governor Strickland’s Administration, and a host of lefty groups cheerleading for “renewable energy.”

Certainly the power companies weren’t babes in the woods in this matter. They assuredly bargained for their own favored provisions within the act. And certainly they were advised by their engineers on what could likely be achieved in the way of efficiencies. But never assume that utility executives are first and foremost motivated about doing right by the consumers. Remember, they were prime movers in the fraudulent cap and trade scam, which they and the Democrats attempted to perpetrate on the American public.

Still, it’s only fair to recognize how adverse power companies are, quite understandably, to incurring the wrath of liberal Democrats. It’d be hard to find a more cowed industry within the private sector (at least, to the extent that they’re actually in it).

Now, according to one Columbus insider, this act was all about aligning the state with Washington guidelines so various federal monies could be obtained. That is, your federal tax dollars were used as leverage to screw up your state’s energy policies. But also, the utilities needed help in importing more energy into the state. Ohio is a net importer of electricity, by about 20%. This is because state and federal authorities have substantially bollixed up the regulatory process. Despite Ohio’s wealth of coal and water resources, there simply hasn’t been enough generating plants built to meet our own electrical needs – much less to sell electricity to other states. This act then, was in part, an effort to improve upon that situation. But it was a misbegotten attempt.

Practically every time the state passes a steaming pile of “good” intentions, it opens the door for unaccountable regulators and judicial activists to come in and cause mischief – which ultimately is paid for by you, the man on the street. For starters, one wonders how hard it’ll be for lawyers to gum up the regulatory works by arguing over the proper definition and application of the terms: renewable energies, advanced energies, and efficiencies.

Going further, this act sets a state bias in favor of renewable energies. And why should that be? Free market economics will be regularly undermined by a state policy geared to fifth grade sensibilities. Enforcing reasonable clean air and water standards is all fine and good. But power generation needs to answer to the dollar and cents choices made by consumers, as opposed to fantasies about wind mills and solar panels.

Are we certain to run into problems here? Perhaps not. There’s the thought the Kasich Administration might reopen the issues addressed by Strickland’s “Green Energy” act. The power industry is presently keen on taking advantage of the burgeoning natural gas resources being made available by new fracking technologies (ones which no government bureaucracy ever created or anticipated). So it’s possible the Kasich people might use the opportunity to appropriately alter the “renewable energies” mandates of this previous act. Maybe.

But it’s also possible that Democrats, in return for not throwing too many conniption fits about fracking technologies, will get the Republicans to agree to speeding up the schedule for more of this “renewable energy” nonsense. Hard to say. But one thing's for certain. Anytime you have to rely on Republican officeholders displaying some guts, foresight and integrity, it can make you ill at ease.

Updated to correct typo's.

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