Rep Crenshaw is right about wind and solar

Columnist Chris Tomlinson’s recent attack on Rep. Dan Crewshaw (R-TX) for repeating “tired talking points” about the silliness of wind and solar was itself filled with unsubstantiated and misleading declarations beginning with Tomlinson’s claim that wind and solar employ 143,000 Texans.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) puts wind-related jobs in Texas at 25,000 with 120,000 jobs nationwide. Solar comes in with 10,261 jobs bringing the combined total to one-quarter Tomlinson’s figure. These industry-touted numbers cannot be validated using independent sources but there’s good reason to believe they’re also inflated. When two heavily subsidized industries benefit by being perceived as rural economic engines, job counts tend to be exaggerated. For evidence look at the Texas Chapter 313 applications filed for renewable energy projects. To be approved for favorable tax treatment under the program, applicants are required to create at least 10 new qualifying jobs, yet renewable energy developers routinely receive waivers from this obligation. Through to August 2018, developers committed to creating just 1,213 jobs (1,127 wind energy jobs and 86 non-wind energy jobs).

Tomlinson next attacks the congressman for failing to keep current on the latest advances in battery technology. Apparently, Tomlinson believes, without substantiation, that batteries have resolved the wind/solar intermittency problem. Again, he’s wrong. In congressional testimony last year, Armond Cohen of the Clean Air Task Force stated that batteries, "in theory" could be used to hold excess generated electricity for use later, but “[t]he sheer amount of storage that must be built to capture maximum surplus … becomes cost prohibitive, even at very low storage costs.” Battery deployment at a scale needed to meet Tomlinson’s claim would cost in the trillions.

Tomlinson then wanders into the debate over subsidies and puppets the talking point that adding renewables to the grid reduces electricity prices. It’s true that when wind and solar energy flood the grid in excess of demand, prices will drop and could go negative. This is a direct result of the substantial federal subsidies that enable project owners to sell below market thereby harming more reliable (unsubsidized) generators.[1] There is no justification for any government program that undercuts healthy, competitive businesses, but that’s what’s happening. Tomlinson then makes the ridiculous claim that negative prices are fair payback for not having a carbon tax. Sorry, Mr. Tomlinson. Energy policy is dictated by deliberate and informed debate and not by the unintended and destructive consequence of ill-considered tax policy.

Finally, Tomlinson insists other forms of generation are subsidized. Sure, but let's be clear. No traditional source of electric generation has ever received an open-ended, unlimited subsidy comparable to the federal production tax credit paid for every kilowatt hour of energy put on the grid. Tax credits for wind and solar now represent the most expensive government expenditures in the energy sector over the next decade. AWEA tells Texans that wind energy pays out $477 million annually in state/local taxes and landowner lease payments, but ignores how Texas wind projects placed in service after 2012 demand as much $1.4 billion annually in federal subsidies! U.S taxpayers at large would fare far better if they paid Texans not to build wind energy.

Tomlinson is right that wind tax credits are set to expire (and solar credits reduced) but whether that will happen is another story. Congress approved an extension of the credits in December 2019, the Treasury relaxed the rules for securing the tax credits this spring, language in the Moving Forward Act (H.R 2) passed by the House this summer includes a five-year extension of the production tax credit, and AWEA is once again parked on Capitol Hill asking for more. Since Congress has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to assist the industry, other extensions are likely to be enacted. 


[1] Negative pricing can serve as a practical tool for encouraging generators to voluntarily curtail operation during periods when generation exceeds demand. Most generators respond to negative prices and the situation usually resolves quickly. However, since wind project owners receive substantial federal and state subsidies outside of the energy market, they can afford to produce at below-market prices. Modern turbines produce much more energy thereby earning much more in tax credits than envisioned back in 1992 when the PTC was originally enacted.

OCT 16 2020
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