After successfully pushing for $100 million in special interest renewable energy subsidies in Florida, the solar power lobby is now trying to subvert the Florida Tea Party to get it to support more government favoritism.
Florida’s grassroots conservatives should see through the ruse and just say no to more Solyndra-style chicanery.
Seeking Monopolist Carve-Out
Hoping to take advantage of grassroots conservatives’ antipathy to government picking winners and losers through state-protected monopolies, the solar power industry is playing the victim. Florida law provides within each utility’s state-protected regional monopoly no other entity may sell electricity to Florida consumers.
Solar power lobbyists are seeking a special exception to this monopoly, arguing solar power companies should be able to install equipment on businesses and residences within each utility monopoly and then sell the power directly to consumers. The lobbyists hope to appeal to free-market supporters by saying they are merely seeking the opportunity to compete in an open market.
Superficially, their argument makes sense. After all, limited-government, free-market conservatives generally oppose government-protected monopolies and support successful electricity deregulation like that in Texas. When Texas enacted electricity deregulation in 2002, its electricity prices were 5 percent below the national average. Now, with consumer choice allowed to choose electricity providers in a deregulated market, Texas’ electricity prices are 14 percent below the national average.
There is much more to the solar lobbyists’ position than they are disclosing to Florida’s Tea Party activists.
The solar power lobby is not supporting system-wide deregulation. It is merely seeking its own carve-out within the utility monopoly system. Once it gets its carve-out, solar lobbyists will surely fight tooth-and-nail against any other energy sources or providers getting the same special benefits. This has been the case in California, for example, where the solar power industry has fought against allowing the wind power industry to obtain tax breaks similar to those enjoyed by solar businesses.
When California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) rebuffed the wind industry and extended solar-specific tax breaks in 2014, solar-power lobbyists celebrated the decision.
The solar power industry is adopting free-market language in Florida only as a guise to gain yet more special treatment.
Fighting for Increased Subsidies
Instead of providing Floridians access to greater choice and freer markets, solar power lobbyists would simply milk federal and state taxpayers out of more solar-specific subsidies that subvert the energy market and make electricity more expensive for everyone. The solar power industry would not even exist, except in a very limited form, if not for federal subsidies reimbursing solar power companies for 30 percent of their equipment and project costs.
State and local subsidies, such as the $100 million in renewable energy subsidies the solar lobby successfully extracted in 2012 in Florida, create further government interference and market distortions.
If solar power lobbyists truly desire free markets, they would fight for a blanket deregulation of the Florida electricity market so all utilities and all direct electricity providers could compete in an open, non-subsidized market. This is not what they seek. They merely want their own subsidized piece of the government-protected, closed-market pie.
Market-Unfriendly Solar Industry
The solar power industry has opposed limited government, free markets, consumer choice, and Tea Party principles 99 percent of the time, but when their lobbyists identify a rare program in which government has not chosen it as the politically designated winner, they make a phony appeal to free-market principles and seek to deceive the grassroots into doing their bidding for them.
The end result of this scheme? The grassroots conservatives who launched the Tea Party movement in an effort to push back against government cronyism and largesse would be fighting for greater access to those corrupt practices. For every piece of specially subsidized equipment a solar power company installs on a Tea Partyer’s rooftop, and for every unit of specially subsidized electricity a solar power provider sells to a Tea Party electricity consumer, the Tea Partyer will in effect be billing federal taxpayers for 30 percent of his or her solar power costs. The Tea Partyer will also bill state and local taxpayers for additional subsidies on top of that.
This divide-and-conquer regime of bestowing special-interest handouts and counting on ensuing self-serving political support is the very crony socialism the Tea Party organized to oppose.
The ultimate question in the Florida solar power-Tea Party question is whether pushing for uneconomical, heavily subsidized solar power’s special access to government-protected monopolies advances limited-government, free-market principles.
Tea Partyers and grassroots conservatives justifiably express concern about the very existence of government-protected monopolies, but giving solar power lobbyists special access to this government-protected monopoly merely entrenches the opponents of free markets with a more powerful, predatory stakeholder and ensures a new wave of uneconomical electricity paid for by government subsidies and the sweat of Floridian and American workers.
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is vice president for external relations and senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute.