Fossil fuel magnates, the Koch brothers, have been waging war against certain bipartisan policies in favour of renewable energy for many years. Despite intense efforts by the family, who own oil giant Koch Industries, renewable and green energy is still on the rise in the US.
On a federal level, the family has lobbied against various tax breaks and credits regarding the premise of growth within the wind, ethanol, solar and other alternative energy sectors. On the state level the main target is on the state renewable power standards, or Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) laws. Over 30 states have already adopted such standards which need and encourage their power utilities to diversify its fuel supplies in order to develop on local resources as well as develop local industries as a whole while keeping the environment cleaner and greener.
Such laws are in effect within both red and blue sates which is led by both Republican and Democratic legislators as well as governors. The laws have also been adopted by certain regulatory bodies, co-operative boards, city councils and even by the.
The Rise of Green Energy
Some of the RPS standards have been around for decades, showing that:
- Alternative and green energy is growing steadily
- Local employment as well as industries are being created
- It is difficult to detect any electricity rate increases
- Compliance costs for such laws are an average of 1% of retail power rates through 24 states, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
Evidently, such policies are truly popular with the general public, where utilities themselves have even made peace with the laws.
“Personally I support the renewable energy portfolio standard,” stated former CEO of Duke Energy, Jim Rogers.
On the other side of the green energy argument, such success is not met with much enthusiasm. H. Sterling Burnett, from the Heartland Institute, has stated that such energy laws are the ‘work of the devil himself’. He suggests that the green energy revolution has given unnecessary power to environmental lobbyists ‘who have utter disdain towards fossil fuels and capitalism… which are the two fundamentals that drive a modern society’.
The Heartland Institute, along with Koch-backed groups Americans for Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council and even members of the State Policy Network, made an effort during 2011 to halt the growth of clean energy in its tracks. deride
Many have termed this cast of clean energy deriders “The Koch Machine”, as most funding for anti-green egerny campaigning comes from the Koch brothers.
The family’s aims to put a stop to green energy have largely failed, even smaller victories have not significantly slowed the growing dominance of green energy over the fossil fuel industry.
The Koch’s hold on the States
This is not to say the Koch’s effort have not prevailed in some areas, such as in Ohio in 2014, they were awarded a bill that extended the states RPS for almost 2 years in an attempt to slow the project’s progress. Close connections with media organisations has been at the forefront of the Koch pubic campaign againt green energy.
In January 2015 West Virginia annulled their Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which was adopted in 2009 in a push to diversify fuel supply. Though its 25% standard wasn’t initially a very large percentage of their energy sector, the question remains as to what influenced the change in legislation.
At the time, director of the West Virginia Division of Energy, Jeff Herholdt claimed that they were the only state that has such an impressive renewable portfolio that would still be met by 100% coal. The Koch Machine naturally stated that they feel other states follow suit.
Kansas is another state where a deal was agreed upon conceding legislature that will allow for change to its ‘20% by 2020’ RPS requirements to that of a voluntary aim. In exchange, the legislature will drop a proposed excise tax regarding wind and keep intact a property tax exemption.
Reducing the RPS may sound really awful, but at the end of the day these steps away from green energy by certain states will not change the greater industrial shift at play. Utilities that are regulated have already gone above and beyond the mandate for 2020 according to data from the Kansas Corporation Commission. The state receives 21.7% of their power from 3, 000 MW of wind while an added 1,273 MW are under contract or construction.
With many states power already exceeding 20% green energy, clean energy representatives are questioning the logic of a goal of 20% by 2020.
Failure of the Koch Machine
The past 4 years has seen the AFP and Chamber annul the RPS to no avail. Wind has created awesome advantages for Kansas, where a $7 billion capital investment has a $16 million pay-out for leasing to every farmer per annum while $13 million in payments in lieu of taxes. Kansas’ wind industry has aided in attracting Siemens to sponsor a wind turbine plant within central Kansas.
This strong alliance between the commissioners of each county, the farmers, each local chamber, economic development officials as well as each and every Republican has outright refused to endorse the plant to stop one of the major booms of a declining rural economy.
At the end of the battle, a tax deal was the way out for all, as during 2012, Kansas legislature stated that their state income tax will be eliminated to make way for job employment opportunities within a real world application trickled down economy. These job creations did not happen, state income collapsed and created a massive budget deficit.
Legislature began scrambling looking for budget cuts as well as an increase in taxes, and in effect all eyes fell onto the wind industry. It was proposed to cut down on property tax exemption, allowing for wind farms to pay for the previous few years of taxes while introducing a newer excise tax, with contracts already signed upon included. Many were not sure if this tax change would pass.
The wind industry decided to strike while the iron was hot, in the sense that in exchange for legislators dropping the tax increases, the industry will eliminate their mandate which was already met.
Such a move would allow for Chamber and AFP to save face while keeping the Koch’s happy and will allow the wind industry to sell affordable wind power to utilities who at this point in time are working on meeting newer EPA plant regulations.
Texas may be the next state to see a victory as the senate has agreed to reduce their RPS. The state now has 13, 000 MW of wind power which totals 10% of the state’s power due to transmission line introduced as well as 9, 000 MW still being constructed.
The main idea behind the move to repeal the mandate in Austin is the fact that it will keep the Koch Machine smiling while keeping the Republican legislators safe from primary challenges. The fact of the matter remains that RPS laws are being met before their time frame dictates. Furthermore they have no impact on the rate, they creates employment, support rural communities and clean the air at the same.
Almost half a dozen of the states are planning to expand and extend the RPS laws, such as Hawaii sitting at 100% and California at 50%, where little effort is made to reduce them.
At the end of the day the Koch family dynasty, despite significant efforts to slow legislation and politics surrounding renewable energy, does not appear to be succeeding in beating the threat of the green energy revolution.