Published March 08, 2012
While President Obama is trying futilely to convince the American people he supports an “all of the above” energy policy, he has remained stubbornly committed to vast subsidies for unproven, expensive technologies like wind.
Obama has repeatedly described his intention to increase wind subsidies “doubling down,” an appropriate use of gambling terminology.
The U.S. Senate will likely be put on record soon on amendment votes to extend wasteful, expensive subsidies for windmills and to create vast new subsidies for natural gas vehicles. These votes will tell us which senators, like the president, want to double down on a losing hand and which think it might be time to try a free market energy policy.
Sadly, it is hardly a given that Republicans will oppose massive taxpayer-funded giveaways to favored energy players. The clearest evidence of that comes from New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie has led the way on a disastrous proposed offshore wind scheme.
New Jersey’s offshore wind boondoggle was authorized by the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, signed into law by Gov. Christie in 2010. A cost analysis of the act conducted by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University concluded that the wind project would cost the state as much as $4.1 billion, drive up electricity rates up as much as 4.2% and cost up to 4,440 jobs. More recently a consulting firm hired by state officials to analyze the bid from Fishermen’s Atlantic, LLC to construct the project found that it would result in the loss of almost 30,000 jobs, and drive up electricity rates by $286 million.
With hefty federal subsidies for wind in place, such boondoggles will continue to spring up around the country. Fortunately, the principal federal subsidy for wind, the so-called Production Tax Credit (PTC) is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Unfortunately, the Senate will soon vote on extending this giveaway, despite the fact that wind is second only to solar in subsidies and is highly suspect both economically and environmentally.
While Obama tells us it’s time to end the outrageous subsidies for fossil fuels, the facts are the vast majority of subsidies go to wind and solar. -- In 2010, subsidies per megawatt-hour were $0.63 for natural gas, $0.64 for coal, $52 for wind, and $968 for solar.
Instead of looking at those numbers and concluding it’s time to pull the plug on wind subsidies and even more scandalous solar subsidies, some Washington politicians look at them and conclude we need to massively increase subsidies for natural gas.
The Senate is poised to vote on doing just that, on an amendment that would add the provisions of the so-called Nat Gas Act to the surface transportation bill. This amendment, sponsored by New Jersey’s Senator Robert Menendez, would provide hefty subsidies – up to $64,000 per truck – to subsidize the conversion of vehicles to natural gas.
The bill, sadly, has bipartisan support, including from Republicans like Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who apparently believes that the only difference between Republicans and Democrats is which industries they prefer to choose to lavish with special giveaways.
The consequences of huge subsidies to shift natural gas into the transportation sector are easy to foresee. If we artificially boost demand at taxpayer expense, prices will go up. That means higher natural gas bills for home heating bills, and it means higher prices for all the industries that use natural gas as a feedstock.
Just as ethanol subsidies rippled through corn prices to higher food prices, natural gas subsidies would have economy-wide effects through higher prices for chemicals, plastics, and fertilizers.
Moreover, with natural gas prices collapsing thanks to the fracking revolution, these subsidies are wholly unnecessary.
As long as the EPA and overzealous state regulators can be kept at bay, natural gas vehicles will come to market without subsidies. In fact, this week Chrysler and General Motors announced duel-fuel pick-up trucks that run on both compressed natural gas and gasoline.
Why not let consumers decide if they want these vehicles, instead of putting a government thumb on the scale at a cost of billions of dollars?
In the aftermath of Solyndra, politicians should recognize that its time to pull the plug on energy subsidies, scale back on onerous regulations, and let consumers, not bureaucrats, decide our country’s energy future. The U.S. Senate should therefore reject both on the PTC and Nat Gas amendments.
Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity and the author of “Democracy Denied” (BenBella Books, 2011). Steve Lonegan is executive director of Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey.