I recently turned 401. But I didn’t start feeling old until this weekend — because that’s when I started yelling at newspapers2. On Saturday, the New York Times published a lurid, sneering, over-the-top piece on renewable energy that was riddled with errors and really missed the forest for the trees.
We’ve prepared a document rebutting some of the incorrect assertions in the article. You can find it here. NRG, the owner of the solar plant at the heart of the story prepared a similar doc, here. And AWEA was out with a factcheck of their own, here. Even Time is calling BS.
The fact is, governments have long provided massive subsidies for the fossil fuel and nuclear industries — and despite the fact that these industries are amongst the most profitable in the world, and continue to raise prices while inflicting tremendous damage to the environment, these subsidies continue unabated. IEA reports that fossil fuels get six times the level of subsidies of renewables. And according to the most recent report on energy subsidies by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2007, subsidies to nuclear were 9.6 times higher than those for solar; natural gas and petroleum subsidies were 11.2 times higher; and coal subsidies were 22.2 times higher than solar. The important thing is that we don’t pick winners, right?
On this unlevel playing field, transitioning to clean, emission-free renewable energy is going to require some government guidance and support.
And it is working. Renewables are finally coming into their own. In California, solar has hit the gigawatt mark for customer-owned generation. Incentives for rooftop PV have dropped from $4.50/W to $0.25/W, meaning that retail grid parity is just a frog-hair away. And well over half the solar power contracts that California utilities have signed — nearly 5 GW — are below the cost of a new natural gas plant. In Colorado, Xcel, the largest utility in the state, announced that it was going to meet the 30 percent renewable goal eight years early, and at a savings to ratepayers of $409 million.
The point is, the programs — incentives, standards, what have you — are delivering. It’s a tremendous achievement — the commercialization of clean, renewable energy, energy that doesn’t warm the planet, melt icecaps or poison babies — at costs cheaper than the fossil fuel alternative. It’s a modern-day miracle. And it’s one that the vast majority of Americans support, regardless of their political orientation.
But let’s be honest here. The next 12 months are going to be more challenging than ever. There’s a well-funded opposition that’s just getting started. The Kochs just dropped $2.4 million in attack ads. “Clean coal” has spent $80 million on TV ads alone. We are stepping through the looking-glass, where facts are not the coin of the realm.
What to do? Chin up, fight back, and get ready to go on offense.
If you are so inclined, start by sending the NY Times a letter to the editor. Here’s how.
There’s going to be a lot of work to do in the days ahead.
1. Actually, it was a year ago. Until I turn 41, I’m still “recently 40.”
2. Actually, I’ve been yelling at newspapers for years.