Sunday, December 2, 2012

Nuclear Giant Exelon Back to Bullying Wind Energy

Corn field and wind turbinesNuclear power giant Exelon is once again complaining that wind power makes electricity prices too low. On page 21 of Exelon's new report slamming government support for wind energy:
[S]ubsidized wind generation also exacerbates artificially low electric prices, thus imposing economic harm.
on competitive generators that are needed to maintain system reliability.
Aw, poor little Exelon! Considering the company brought in $19 billion in revenue last year while dumping vast amounts of carbon pollution into the air at no charge, I bet that cheap wind power had Exelon executives crying in their Johnnie Walker Blue.

Exelon isn't poor or little - it's a big, powerful bully that has no problem putting its best interests ahead of your family's best interests. Exelon spent $9.2 million on lobbying last year, just one of many electric utilities fighting to protect our dirty, expensive energy status quo. The entire alternative energy industry - from wind to solar to biofuels - spent $28.6 million.

As Michael Hiltzik writes in the Los Angeles Times, for all the nuclear and fossil fuel complaining about wind energy incentives, you don't hear those same industries volunteering to give up their own breaks to level the playing field:
Fossil-fuel producers reap tax accounting breaks such as the depletion allowance, which is worth an estimated $1 billion a year, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, a Washington think tank created to advise Congress on energy policy. Tax-expensing options for drillers bring them $1.9 billion a year. Relief on royalty payments due to drillers on government property: $53 billion over the lifetime of the leases. Partially as a result, the U.S. government's take from its oil and gas leases is among the lowest in the world, the Government Accountability Office found in 2007.

Then there's coal, the owners of which get to classify royalty income as capital gains, therefore paying a preferential tax rate. This break was enacted in 1951 as relief from the high taxes levied to pay for the Korean War (paying for wars from tax revenue, not by borrowing, was a quaint practice of that era). Bizarrely, it never went away and today is worth as much as $170 million a year to the coal industry.

Finally, there's nuclear, which over its fledging years received subsidies that dwarf all others, while producing a small fraction of the energy per subsidy dollar of any other fuel source. To this day, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the nuclear power industry receives subsidies worth as much as 11.4 cents per generated kilowatt, or five times as much as the 2.2-cent wind tax credit. (The figure includes such breaks as the federal cap on the industry's liability for nuclear accidents and the government's shouldering of waste management costs.)

What gives away the game on the real goals of the lobbying against the wind credit is that for all their talk about letting "the market" dictate energy policy, Romney and the Koch types never seriously advocate ending the existing subsidies for oil, gas or nuclear. Those politically connected industries are the antithesis of market operators, and their real goal is to tilt the playing field back toward the past, not the future.
Again: I understand the reasons why the nuclear industry is so terrified of extending wind energy incentives, but they're the exact same reasons average Americans should be asking their members of Congress to extend them.
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