Published on May 26th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Fossil Fuels Vs Clean Energy: State-By-State Exposé

May 26th, 2014 by  

A new report called “Attacks on Renewable Energy Policy by Fossil Fuel Interests 2013-2014” contains a detailed rundown of the money trail behind the fossil fuels vs clean energy battle. That’s not exactly new news to those of you following clean tech legislation, but before you file this away under D for Dog bites man, consider that the report was generated by the Energy & Policy Institute.

The Energy & Policy Institute (EPI) is the same outfit that produced “ALEC Exposed” and “Manufacturing Doubt,” which among other projects gives it a solid track record for following the money from lobbying organizations to the impact on federal legislation. The latest report digs deep into the emerging threat to clean energy policy on the state level.

fossil fuels attack renewable energy

EPI Report: Fossil Fuels Vs. Clean Energy (courtesy of EPI).

Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s start with the obvious question: if fossil fuels are such a great deal for the American consumer, why does that sector require any particularly aggressive assist by the government?

We mean a lobbying assist over and above the usual taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuels. That includes  favorable leasing deals, R&D support, and infrastructure support as well as consideration in tax law, which the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed since its inception.

That also includes a long history of excuse from a full accounting of the local and regional environmental, economic, and public health impacts of fossil fuel operations, a situation that is only just beginning to be remedied.

In short, until recently fossil fuels enjoyed a long and relatively cushy period as the lynchpin of American energy policy, despite the looming potential for competition from alternative sources (here’s an interesting piece on the hemp threat, for example)

As noted up front in Attacks on Renewable Energy Policy, that potential has finally burst through, and the fossil fuel sector is facing its first real challenge in the marketplace in the new millennium.

The cost of solar power and wind power have been sinking with almost frightening speed, even though the market is still in its infancy, and further improvements are expected in solar cell tech and “soft costs.” In addition, major domestic resources, namely geothermal, next/next-generation biofuel (we mean algae), offshore wind power, and ocean power, have not yet been tapped.

It’s also worth noting, in terms of national energy policy, that the US military has been aggressively leading the charge into clean energy from all angles, including advanced energy storage solutions that have already been flagged as a game-changer in the electric utility industry.

Fossil fuels vs clean energy

The full report is well worth a read (available online and as pdf download). For those of you on the go, it focuses on the disinformation campaign funded by Koch Industries, among others.

That campaign is aimed at building public support for letting the “free market” decide which type of fuel comes out ahead, conveniently ignoring the fact that, in most states, there is no free market. As the report describes:

…individuals cannot choose from which company to buy their electricity or from what source their electricity comes. In many locales, Public Utilities Commissions regulate monopoly utility companies in a closed marketplace.

The report sees the greatest single threat to the status quo in the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and net metering policies adopted in some states, which have been “sparking massive investment and deployment of clean energy technologies.” RPS regulations generally call for utilities to gradually increase their sourcing of renewable energy, and net metering enables renewable energy owners to sell electricity to their utility.

It’s no surprise, then, that RPS and net metering are the main target of the campaign, part of which has been engineered by the lobbying organization The Heartland Institute, which happens to be a familiar player in the long and devastating public disinformation campaign in promotion of tobacco.

Connecting the dots, Heartland is also known for its climate denial activities, and it is a member of the overwhelmingly Republican-affiliated ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a Koch-funded organization that promotes model state legislation in the interests of its members.

For those of you familiar with ALEC, that’s another Dog bites man filing, but the real usefulness of the new report is that it connects the dots between funding sources and other, less well known lobbying groups, most of which are members of the State Policy Network.


Here’s a nugget that the report unearthed, in the form of a grant application from The Beacon Hill Institute for a public information campaign, which was submitted before (emphasis added) the organization had researched its topic:

Success will take the form of media recognition, dissemination to stakeholders, and legislative activity that will pare back or repeal [the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (or RGGI)].

And here’s one from a Heartland fundraising document:

Contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate [change] policies.

Stay tuned.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Charming Susan.

    I am not sure because

  • Frozen

    It would be great if wind and solar (the only renewables with good prospects for growth) could actually stand on their own.  Sadly, they don’t and there’s no indication that they’re about to.  Electrically, they must be backed by firm (meaning, fossil-burning or hydro) capacity.  Financially, construction falls off a cliff when tax incentives expire.

    To really do the job, RE has to (a) supply firm generating capacity at (b) a competitive un-subsidized price.  The cost of “firming” that power is not charged to wind farms or solar generators (net metering customers actually get paid for it, since it’s part of the retail rate).  The people who are paying for this are screaming, and you can’t blame them.  The only fair way to handle this is with a carbon tax rather than mandates and subsidies.  There are no prospects for such a tax at this time.

    • Michael Berndtson

      Renewables standing on their own isn’t the issue of this post. The issue is fossil fuel and traditional utilities undermining renewables through legislation. Using big government. There is no free market when it comes to energy. Oil and gas is one big subsidized pile of goo – going on 150 years of governmental handouts. Not to mentioned the focus of much of our department of defense budget. Utilities were suppose to become unregulated back in 1996 – to no avail. They’ve simply become monopolistic publically traded corporations, instead of regulated utilities.

      Pretty much everything you said in your comment are brain dead talking points made ad nauseum by shadowy interest groups mentioned in the article.

      Efficiency + use reduction + grid improvements + renewable builds + whatever is else is needed to pick up the slack = major reduction in fossil fuel emissions from the electricity generation sector.

      Purposely submarining renewables is purely the result of unimaginative political hacks.

      • Frozen

        Renewables UNDERMINED through legislation?  Legislation created them, through PTCs, ITCs and net metering laws.  Those laws established a greatly tilted playing field.  If those have become “talking points”, it’s because they’re true.

        Renewable energy is allegedly supported by these laws in order to fix a problem.  If the technologies, or the way they are developing because of the laws’ incentives, do not actually solve that problem then the laws need to be revisited.  What you’re yelling about is just the normal and ESSENTIAL process of doing that, before the whole thing explodes.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Actually, you are the one doing the yelling. We’ve got a rule against the allcaps thing here. Stop it.

          If fossil fuels were required to pay for their external cost there would be no need for any assistance for renewables.

          • Frozen

            I wasn’t talking to you.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Matters not.

            Read the site rules.


            And learn about external costs.

          • Frozen

            FYI, in the rest of the world “all-cap shouting” means entire comments typed with the caps-lock on, not individual words capitalized for emphasis.  It’s frowned on because it’s hard to read, whereas individual words are not.

            Also FYI, the large amounts of land and material required to buffer the variability of wind+solar have external costs too (pumped storage floods land and destroys fish habitat, etc.).  The truly massive Loch Morar pumped-hydro station concept (linky) would only provide 1.2 days of winter electric demand for the UK (nothing for space heat, nothing for transportation).

            Right now, Germany is clear-cutting centuries-old beech forests in the name of “renewable fuels”.  That’s an extermal cost.  I suppose you could do worse by killing the whole area with sulfur emissions from smelters or the like, but the nuclear plants that were shut down prematurely would have had a far smaller impact on the land even if they had all melted down.

          • Bob_Wallace

            FYI further posts in which you shout will be taken down.

            ” if they had all melted down”

            Just a short reply. The Japanese government (who has taken over the Fukushima problem and will be paying with taxpayer money) has acknowledged that the cost will be at least $138 billion. Estimates run well over $500 billion.

            Multiply a half a trillion dollars times the number of German reactors that are being closed and you’ll come up with a rough estimate of the economic risk.

          • Frozen

            The Japanese government (who has taken over the Fukushima problem and will be paying with taxpayer money) has acknowledged that the cost will be at least $138 billion. Estimates run well over $500 billion.

            No, that is what they’re expecting to spend.  What it costs is far less.  Foolish policy can spend far more than actual cost, and that is what Japan has:  a very foolish policy, which has compensated each individual evacuee by more than $188,000 so far (linky).  This created a strong financial incentive to find harm where none exists, and take precautions that have no factual basis (in effect, phobias).

            Also, you erected a straw man.  I wrote “a far smaller impact on the land“, and in fact the forest impact of the Chernobyl accident itself was negligible (roughly 1000 ha; Germany expects to set aside at least 2.5 million ha for biomass [linky]).  The human response did vast amounts of damage, such as the bulldozing of the Red Forest and burial of its trees in trenches.  The long-term radioactive burden in the topsoil was small enough that it would have allowed much more regrowth of the forest if the topsoil hadn’t been stripped.  Despite this, the area has become a refuge for endangered species.

            Such a huge release required a substantial explosion and fire in a reactor without a containment building.  The effects of meltdowns in light-water reactors with containments have never come close, and almost certainly can’t (no graphite to burn).  When no one on the F. Dai’ichi site received enough radiation dose to experience acute radiation sickness, the effects well off the site would not be visible.

            Question:  Renewables, especially wind, rely on rare earths for magnets.  Most of these are refined in China, with devastating water pollution.  Do you count this as an external cost of renewables?

            further posts in which you shout will be taken down

            You use terms in ways contrary to their commonly-understood meanings, and threaten censorship when people step over your oddly-positioned lines.  No wonder this forum is more or less an echo chamber.

          • Offgridmanpolktn

            If this forum is such an echo chamber then why do you continue to come back. If you are making a valid point then there is no need for all caps or bold faced type, let the facts speak for themselves.
            Over forty years ago while still a teenager it was possible to realize that when using fossil fuels or nuclear for energy you are using a resource that will eventually run out and be a problem for our descendants.
            So seven years ago when setting up my own energy system, even with panels running 4-6$/watt, made a system that constantly over supplies my needs year round without any rebates or tax breaks for less than the utility wanted to charge me to run power lines in and give me a monthly bill on top of that. Why the governments or industries can’t figure out how to do the same with panels being almost one tenth of the cost means there must be something seriously wrong with our system of policies and laws

          • Frozen

            If this forum is such an echo chamber then why do you continue to come back.

            To make it a bit less of one, if people are open-minded enough to let it.  Clear thinking, starting with having one’s facts straight, is essential to solving our energy and environmental problems.  You can fool people, but Nature follows the laws of physics and chemistry no matter what you say or write.  Or you could call it a quixotic thing for tilting at windmills.  I’ve been doing on-line communications since before CBBS, it’s in my blood.

            If you are making a valid point then there is no need for all caps or bold faced type, let the facts speak for themselves.

            That only happens if they read it and understand it.  Too much of the time, people gloss over key words and phrases (especially those with which they are unfamiliar, require thought or challenge assumptions).  They respond with straw-man arguments which show they didn’t understand what they read, or didn’t read it in the first place.  Typographical emphasis doesn’t prevent this, but it makes it less likely to happen and harder to defend when somebody does.

            Which gets me to the bizarre CleanTechnica template which colors hyperlinks the same as body text.  This is utterly contrary to web convention; I have never seen another Disqus site which does it.  Who is going to mouse over whole pages of comments to see if there are any hyperlinks?  No standard template does this, which suggests to me that it was done deliberately.  Someone wanted to hide hyperlinks, to make it hard to see when outside sources of information are provided.  Did someone design this site as an echo chamber?  I came here through links provided by a blog that aggregates energy-related news headlines.  If CleanTechnica is explicitly providing ideology rather than facts, maybe I should notify the blog owner.

          • Frozen

            Over forty years ago while still a teenager it was possible to realize that when using fossil fuels or nuclear for energy you are using a resource that will eventually run out and be a problem for our descendants.

            Every year, weathering extracts about 32,000 tons of uranium from rocks and carries it into the world’s oceans.  Total human energy consumption from all sources is equivalent to only 5,000 tons of uranium per year, and the oceans already contain some billions of tons.  There is no way to run out of uranium.  It is more renewable than any construction metal other than magnesium (also extracted from seawater).

            seven years ago … made a system that constantly over supplies my needs year round without any rebates or tax breaks

            That’s nice.  Do you power the industry that made your system?  Do your local conditions apply to major population centers?  Have you taken any economy measures that others would find too expensive or onerous to copy?

            I started using screw-in fluorescent lights when they still had iron ballasts (one still works), but I find that much of my electricity consumption is forced by decisions made years ago by others.  My basement has no foam around the foundation, so it requires a dehumidifier in the summer.  Just the difference between a humid or less-humid summer soaks up more juice than my plug-in car.  I think you would agree that there is little I can do about this, and the millions of people in the same boat cannot economize as perhaps you believe they should.

            Those people need electricity 24/7/365, and the world needs it to be carbon-free.  Maybe renewables and storage will eventually get to the point where they can step up and shoulder that burden, but we do not have the luxury of time.

          • Bob_Wallace

            $138 billion is what TEPCO and the Japanese government have acknowledged so far. The actual cost won’t finalized for decades.

            We build wind turbines without rare earth magnets.

            China needs to clean up its mining and manufacturing processes for much of what they do. It is not restricted to renewables.

            What this forum attempts to be is a place where people can discuss solutions to our energy problems. If you want a different sort of forum fell free to look elsewhere.

          • Frozen

            $138 billion is what TEPCO and the Japanese government have acknowledged so far. The actual cost won’t finalized for decades.

            You miss the point (that happens a lot, which is why I use caps or boldface to make it difficult to do).  Most of that expenditure is doing nothing to protect lives or health.  It is not an essential cost of the accident, it is pure waste.  There are even efforts to reduce exposures to less than the natural background.  There is work to “decontaminate” radioactives which have been there since before humans evolved!  Is that not insane?

            A sensible approach would be to see where negative health effects begin, and immediately re-occupy all areas which are a reasonable margin under that (say, half).  The monazite beaches at Guarapari and Kemala have radiation exposures close to 200 milliSieverts per year, and Ramsar in Iran has around 260 mSv/yr.  People there show no ill effects, so anything under 100-130 mSv/yr should be immediately classed as safe.

            Since the worst-hit areas of Fukushima prefecture were around 90 mSv/yr a year ago, that means that all evacuation orders should be lifted and people sent home.  More to the point, many never should have been sent away in the first place.  Most of those billions of dollars were for nothing.  Oh, a sweet deal if you can get it ($188,000 a head over 37 months is about $20,000 a month for a family of 4, which I bet buys plenty even in Japan), but on the whole it was just waste driven by senseless fear.

            What this forum attempts to be is a place where people can discuss solutions to our energy problems.

            Not helped by ruling things off the table a priori, or ignoring salient facts.

  • Maria Marry

    No no I am not agree with that because

  • Michael Berndtson

    A+, Tina. This silliness will impact the success of renewables deployment more than anything else. Even though actual reality based capital and O&M data is helping renewables progress, the goofiness of American politics and entrenched industries is doing an excellent job at submarining its success. We’re not talking about concerned citizens here. We’re talking about political hacks, PR flacks and multi billion dollar interest groups hell bent on winning. Not being right. Just winning. A PR flack makes mid six figures. A corporate lawyer makes seven to eight figures. A journalist for traditional corporate media, if working, makes most of his/her money schilling these days. Fossil fuel has the money. And the heartland’s heart.

    Speaking of sleaze, here’s an interesting story from desmogblog (by Steve Horn) on Energy Information Administration (EIA) hiring a fracking flack to focus on “facts.”

    Krohn is essentially a plant in a government agency. This kind of thing has been going on since about 1789 or so. Renewables have to make sure its data is accurately represented. Sadly, companies like GE, who make windmills, make more money on fossil fuel systems. Other major companies for wind and solar are foreign. A lot are Chinese. Renewables interest groups may want to start a mirror data clearinghouse website, open to all, to keep EIA’s feet to the fire to limit fossil fuel fudging.

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