Flawed energy research from fossil fuel front groups

When the Koch-funded American Energy Alliance hosted a forum this month at the General Assembly, it used flawed economic research from Strata, another Koch-connected group, to attack the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. The public and legislators should be aware that claims about the negative impacts of the REPS are misleading and the result of special interest-funded research.

In recent years, the American Energy Alliance has been funded by ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. Strata is a research group run by Dr. Randy Simmons, the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy from 2008 through 2013 at Utah State University. Simmons also runs the Koch Scholars Program, which receives grants from the Charles Koch Foundation.

USU and Strata have published three flawed reports attacking state renewable energy standards in Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio. Michael Goggin at the American Wind Energy Association noted serious flaws, saying, “When major errors in the study’s methods are corrected, the study’s results actually confirm that state Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS) like those in Kansas create hundreds of jobs and save consumers tens of millions of dollars.”

Strata and Simmons’ study uses a “statistical trick to blame the Great Recession on renewable energy” and misses the most basic statistical principle: Correlation is not causation. Strata and USU would have simply needed to look at one state that did not have a renewable energy standard to see that the economic downturn was not a result of the state’s enacting a renewable energy standard but the result of the Great Recession.

A recent study by venture capital firm DBL Investors reaffirmed that renewable energy standards do not negatively affect the economy. DBL found that “states relying more on renewable generation have experienced retail electricity prices comparable to, or cheaper than, states relying less on renewable generation.” The 10 states with the greatest share of generation from renewables averaged a retail electricity price of 9.79 cents per kWh in 2013 versus an average of 10.28 cents per kWh for the 10 states with the least share of renewable electricity generation.

These front groups want legislators and the public to believe they are credible third-party voices in the energy debate, when in fact they are funded by special interests that want to destroy the burgeoning clean energy industry.

North Carolina’s own RTI International published a study finding that the REPS has saved ratepayers $162 million since it was adopted in 2007 and that clean energy has supported 44,500 full-time-equivalent jobs, with $3.5 billion invested between 2007 and 2014. The REPS has cost the average ratepayer 50 cents per month. Solar needs no fuel, pipelines, railroads, compressing stations or emissions control. Solar doesn’t produce toxic ash like coal or radioactive nuclear waste. Solar uses no water and creates local jobs we can be proud of.

For every dollar spent on renewable energy tax credits, $1.54 is returned to state and local tax coffers. In fact, Duke Energy took half of 2015’s credits.

Instead of shutting down inquiries about who is behind the flawed attacks on renewable energy, North Carolina elected officials should welcome questions. Then legislators should look to credible third-party sources to determine the true costs and benefits of the REPS.

North Carolina’s recent lesson in the staggering cost to clean up toxic 50-year-old leaking coal ash ponds has been painful as the cleanup will take many years, if not decades. It’s time to go clean and help North Carolina’s burgeoning solar industry.

Gabe Elsner is the executive director of Energy & Policy Institute, which works to expose attacks on clean technology.