Solar Power Lobbyists Seek to Subvert Florida Tea Party

Published March 2, 2015

After successfully pushing for $100 million in special interest Florida renewable energy subsidies, the solar power lobby hopes to subvert the Florida Tea Party and get it to work for still more government favoritism. Florida’s grassroots conservatives should see through the ruse and just say no to more Solyndra-style chicanery.

Seeking to take advantage of grassroots conservatives’ natural – and justified – antipathy to government picking winners and losers through state-protected monopolies, the solar power industry is playing the victim regarding Florida utility monopolies. Florida law provides that within each utility’s state-protected regional monopoly, no other entity may sell electricity to Florida consumers.  Solar power lobbyists seek a special exception to this monopoly, arguing that solar power companies should be able to install equipment on businesses and residences within each utility monopoly and then sell their power directly to consumers.

Solar power lobbyists hope to appeal to free marketers by saying they are merely seeking the opportunity to compete in a free 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.) However, there is much more to the solar lobbyists’ position than they are disclosing to Florida 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 own carve-out, you can bet your last dollar that solar lobbyists will 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 wind power efforts to level the playing field regarding solar-specific tax breaks. When California Gov. Jerry Brown last year rebuffed the wind industry and extended the solar-specific tax breaks, solar power lobbyists celebrated the decision. The solar power industry’s successful lobbying for special treatment and solar-specific subsidies in California is consistent with its overall agenda of opposing free markets in California and throughout the nation. It is only adopting free-market language in Florida as a guise to gaining yet more special treatment, special tax subsidies, and anti-free market policies.

Rather than providing Floridians access to greater choice and freer markets, solar power lobbyists are simply seeking more opportunities to milk federal and state taxpayers out of solar-specific subsidies that subvert free-market energy policies 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, like the $100 million in Florida renewable energy subsidies the solar lobby successfully extracted in 2012, provide still further government interference and market distortions. Rather than freeing Florida consumers from market-distorting special handouts and government picking winners and losers in the electricity field, solar power lobbyists’ efforts to get Tea Partyers on board is merely an offer to give Tea Partiers a piece of the lobbyists’ special-interest graft. If you can’t beat free-market supporters, why not subvert them by offering them a cut of your ill-gotten spoils?

The simple fact is consumer advocates and limited government conservatives should not support solar power subsidies and special preferences in any way, shape, or form. However, joining forces with solar power lobbyists to gain a cut of the state-protected electricity monopoly accomplishes exactly that. After carving out renewable-specific and solar-specific market-share guarantees in 30-states, as well as solar-specific taxpayers subsidies throughout the nation, solar power lobbyists hypocritically claim they are not being given access to free markets and a special exception to utility monopolies. If solar power lobbyists truly were advocating for free markets, however, they would advocate for a blanket deregulation of the Florida electricity market where all utilities and all direct electricity providers would compete in an open and non-subsidized market. Yet this is not what they seek. They merely want their own subsidized piece of the government-protected, closed-market pie. Let us wet our beak in the utility rackets, they tell Tea Partyers, and we will let you wet your beak in our rackets.

Without the taxpayer subsidies and guaranteed market shares that solar power lobbyists have successfully gained for themselves, their tremendously expensive solar power could not compete against more affordable conventional energy alternatives. Without solar power’s special subsidies and guaranteed market shares, consumers throughout Florida and the nation would be spending much less of their hard-earned money on electricity. The solar power industry has essentially opposed limited government, opposed free markets, opposed consumer choice, and opposed Tea Party principles in the 99 percent of the time that such conservative, limited government principles do not advance their cause. Now, when solar power lobbyists have identified 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 trick the very the grassroots conservatives whom they uniformly despise into do their bidding for them.

The end result of this scheme would be the very grassroots conservatives who, in an effort to push back against government cronyism and largesse, launched the Tea Party movement would now be fighting for greater access to government subsidies and largesse. 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 have billed state and local taxpayers for additional subsidies on top of that. This is entirely antithetical to what the Tea Party stands for.

Even if the solar power company were able to sell electricity back to the Tea Partyer at or near the retail price of utility-provided electricity, the true cost of that electricity – after accounting for all the taxpayer subsidies for solar power – would be substantially higher. By claiming to support free and open markets, the solar power industry will have co-opted the Tea Party movement to support more widespread subsidies, more widespread cronyism, and higher-priced electricity. And once any person – grassroots conservative, Tea Partyer, or otherwise – has a vested financial interest in continuing those subsidies and special-interest programs, it will be very difficult to convince that person to give up his or her personal financial interest for the greater good of the nation, state, and community. Indeed, this divide-and-conquer regime of bestowing special-interest handouts and counting on ensuing self-serving political support is the very cronyist system 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 the government-protected monopoly. However, 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.