‘Sustainable’ is an odd word for an industry attesting it can’t survive without government aid

Years ago, my colleague Roy Cordato pointed out the elephant in the room in a report from the renewable energy lobby:

Essentially the study, and apparently NCSEA, is claiming that but for the subsidies, these investments in “sustainable” energy and therefore these economic benefits, would not have occurred. In other words, tacitly the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association is acknowledging that, without subsidies, these renewable energy sources are in fact unsustainable.

That was in 2013. Nothing had changed by 2017, when the NCSEA argued in a fundraising plea that:

Much of the utility-scale solar industry’s success can be attributed to our state’s strong clean energy policies, such as favorable contracts and rates paid to these facilities for the energy and generation capacity they provide.

I had noticed the same contradiction Cordato had. I called it the “solar dance.” It’s a two-pronged, self-defeating argument that solar’s media and business advocates make without seeming to notice how the second prong makes an utter shambles of the first.

Supporters of keeping costly mandates and subsidies for the solar industry in North Carolina are having to make a very strange argument. Essentially, they have to hail the solar industry as a North Carolina success story while simultaneously arguing that removing all the artificial state-mandated props would completely destroy it. …

It’s a bit like saying Zacchaeus was actually a very, very tall man, but in discussing his stature you absolutely must include the height of the sycamore tree. (Incidentally, prior to his famous encounter, Zacchaeus subsided off ill-gotten tax revenues.)

Or like finding a fierce independence in Puyi, the “Boy Emperor” of China, who had an official state nursemaid well into his teens. As I put elsewhere, “To hear them tell it, solar is a powerhouse industry that would collapse like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge if any state support were removed.”

Pew Charitable Reports published a very telling report in which — supposedly to proclaim “Clean Energy Rising: Solar shines in North Carolina” — each page refers to some government grant, incentive, mandate, or giveaway. Rather than proclaim a “rising” industry, it was a testament to just how dependent the industry is on government.

A March 2015 report from the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources showed how the state and federal governments completely protect solar investors from risk, not only “return[ing] almost all of their investment within six years” but well over half of it in the first year.

In April 2017 the U.S. Energy Information Administration made it plain (as had the renewable energy lobby in its fundraising plea) — North Carolina’s solar industry is driven by government, not the market:

Utility-scale—one megawatt (MW) or greater—solar PV growth in North Carolina has been encouraged by a decades-old federal mandate, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA), and by state policies such as the renewable portfolio standard and the state renewable energy tax credit.

As always, the better path for consumers and even competitors is market competition rather than cronyism.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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