Monday, March 01, 2010

Lobbyists As Big As a Solar Panel

usa_monument_valley_arizona We generally have no beef with the lobbying class, whether on the federal or state level. Legislators have to deal with a tremendous number of complex issues and lobbyists are one way (admittedly among many ways) to get up to speed on an issue.

Politicians are not morons: they know NEI prefers nuclear energy solutions, that Microsoft does not promote WordPerfect and that Sierra Club makes the best case for its environmental interests that it can. The trick is to balance them all out and, of course, to have opinions of their own and to visit with their constituents.

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Here’s the thing:

House Bill 2701 was killed two days after hearing from several solar companies, including Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., which threatened to abandon plans to locate a factory in Goodyear.

Suntech is not yet a constituent (it’s a Chinese company) so has to qualify as a lobbyist, yet was able to make the economic case that going forward with this bill was ill-advised. So what did House bill 2701 do?

The bill was seen as a potential showdown with the Arizona Corporation Commission, which had set standards requiring state utilities get 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2025. Provisions included the classification of nuclear power as a renewable.

Solar industry officials said the bill had the potential to gut the industry in the state. Other companies protesting the bill were First Solar and Arizona Public Service Co.

The last named company is the local electric utility. Presumably, part of the fear is that if nuclear energy was allowed into the renewable standard, one nuclear plant stood to gobble up all of that 15%, freeing utilities from using solar energy. Why they would want to be free of that (in Arizona of all places!), or why Arizona Public Service would care one way or another, we cannot derive from the story.

We looked around a bit to see if another story explained this aspect better and found this:

Lesko's bill passed the House Government Committee on a 5-2 vote this week. It would have technically maintained the requirement for 15-percent renewable energy by 2025 but it would have classified nuclear and hydropower as renewable energy sources and allowed power companies to ignore the rule if complying would raise costs for customers.

It’s that last bit that matters. Solar energy certainly will raise costs for customers, especially if it is used to meet most of that 15% standard, so we can see a little better why solar companies didn’t want the bill.

We’re only noting this – we’re not going to get on a high-horse about rising utility rates. If the country is going to move in this direction, this is what’s going to happen – and the country is moving in this direction. We might wish Arizona would settle on nuclear energy – cheaper in the long run and uses 90% rather than 20% of its generating capacity – but fine.

"This sends a clear and united message to employers around the world — Arizona remains the premier destination for solar industries," [Ariz. Gov. Jan] Brewer said in the statement.

Well, standard schmandard. If someone gets the idea to build a nuclear energy plant in Arizona, it will be to the benefit of all Arizonans, including Suntech, whether or not it’s part of a standard and will simply push the level of emission free energy up to, say, 30%.

In the end, what can we say? Congratulations to Suntech, of course, but this legislative outcome feels a little sere, a little burnt.

Monument Valley.

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