In the forthcoming cover story of National Review magazine, Travis Kavulla, energy director of the R Street Institute, offers advice to Republicans on how to respond to the Green New Deal. “What is the Green New Deal” is interesting for what is said and not said given R Street’s controversial mission to foist a carbon tax on the U.S. economy.

Most of his 1,900-word article is what a conservative or libertarian should say about the 10-year forced energy transformation, social justice scheme. It is extremely unrealistic (“outlandish,” says Kavulla), invites rank cronyism (Solyndra is mentioned), and is a vehicle for remaking society, not only the energy economy.

Kavulla also notes the civil war within the Democrat Party on climate/energy policy—one that, he should have added, calls the alarmists’ bluff of now-or-never forced energy transformation for a livable climate.

Public Utility Regulation Perverted

A public utility expert, Kavulla recognizes the debasing of state regulation of electricity where consumer-minded “just and reasonable” ratemaking has been usurped by the climate issue.

“[T]he energy marketplace consists mostly of local monopolies and other very large companies,” he begins. “They await any policy proposal, not scared of the prospect of new programs and regulations so much as they are eager to co-opt them.” Kavulla continues:

They have captive customers, so they have no great reason to worry about the price effect of government policies. Indeed, many of the most lucrative utilities have seen mini–Green New Deals emerge in states where they operate.

Politicization is rampant:

A green coalition emerges demanding more clean energy and less coal- and natural-gas-fired electricity generation. Politicians endorse it. The bumper-sticker message — e.g., “80 percent renewables by 2040” — polls well enough that the utilities think it will pass.

Rent-seekers win:

[Utilities] bargain with environmentalist groups to present a legislative package to retire fossil-fuel assets and embark on a renewables spending bonanza, usually financed by surcharges on customer bills. This core bargain then becomes a platform for all comers to insert their asks: labor unions, electric-vehicle advocates, technology-development firms looking for a carve-out, and local governments that want investments earmarked to them. The price tag grows, and all of the costs end up flowing through the rates that government regulators permit utilities to charge their customers.

Sad, indeed. And for Kavulla’s analysis, so far so good, twelve hundred words in.

Getting Off Track

Kavulla then calls for Republicans to come up with an alternative to a federal Green New Deal—but not before he gets in some sharp digs at National Review’s conservative audience. He singles out the Republican “skeptical camp,” for “all too often it traffics in an explicitly anti-clean-energy message, raving about climate science, the shadow flicker of wind farms, and the electromagnetic field of smart meters.”

This is unfair on all four counts—and at odds with R Street’s stated “mission to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government.” In fact, the case against climate alarmism and CO2 rationing is much more sophisticated.

  • The “anti-clean-energy message” is really about the pronounced negative effects of industrial wind turbines and industrial-scale solar installations versus dense mineral energies with a far less ecological footprint.
  • “Raving about climate science” is the quite justified calling-out of climate alarmism for its falsified exaggerations and neglect of natural forcing (reference Judith Curry’s Climate Etc.). Global lukewarming is the middle ground in this debate.
  • The “shadow flicker of wind farms” is a nuisance, but noise issues are the elephant in the room. There is traditional noise (watch this video from the Texas Public Policy Foundation) as well as the more subtle infra- and low-frequency noise that have prompted new guidelines from the World Health Organization for turbine siting.
  • The “the electromagnetic field of smart meters” is an obscure argument. Penny wise and pound foolish “smart” meters are imposed on captives by utilities as new rate base upon which profit margins apply.

To rebut conservatives’ alleged “raving about climate science,” Kavulla resorts to a non-sequitur:

The atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases has not been higher since the dawn of human civilization than it is today. No debate about the niceties of climate science can eclipse this basic fact. It is prudent to encourage the development of power plants that emit no greenhouse gases, or less of them.

He does not use the word carbon dioxide, which is not a criteria pollutant but a greening agent with known benefits, as meticulously documented by the CO2 Coalition. The fact that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are historically high (thank you, industrialization!) does not translate into a need for government mitigation policy. If anything, climate change (natural or anthropogenic) is an argument for no-regrets free-market adaptation in a fossil-fuel world.

Customer Empowerment Act

The good news is that Kavulla does not advocate, or even mention, a carbon tax as an alternative to a Green New Deal. Instead, he pitches “a more persuasive and elegant response to the Green New Dealers than what many Republicans have been pitching”—retail customer choice based on mandatory open access (MOA), wholly available in 13 states and partly so in 12 states. In his words:

Democrats have said that consumers are demanding clean energy. They then have demanded massive government programs to invest in it — or to co-opt monopolies to do it for them. Why not instead, if consumers are demanding clean energy, adopt policies that would make it easier for them to get it through their own choices?

Kavulla’s Customer Empowerment Act would universalize MOA. In fact, this is exactly what Enron was pushing in the 1990s as an alternative to the utilities’ “green pricing” programs: Let environmentally minded customers choose to pay a higher rate for more expensive, upgraded (intermittent) renewable energy.

Kavulla’s proposal can be censured by property rights advocates as infrastructure socialism. But assuming MOA, the outsized subsidies to wind and solar should be removed to level the playing field, for starters. Facing real rates, corporations and other buyers would change their minds in some if not many cases. And if these decision-makers actually visited a wind turbine and spoke to local residents, the “greenness” of industrial wind might go away completely. Solar has its own issues. Michael Shellenberger’s “Why Renewables Can’t Save the Planet” should be required reading for policy makers and business leaders interested in the energy/climate debate.

Conclusion

The subtitle of Kavulla’s essay is, “Consumers should come first in the GOP’s climate policies.” They should, which rules out a carbon tax and the international tariffs that would come with it. Special subsidies to wind, solar, nuclear, ethanol, and electric vehicles should be ended as well to create a taxpayer-neutral playing field.

But more than this, “free market” R Street should question the premises behind the Green New Deal, including exaggerated claims about future climate change. Motivations, not only coercive energy proposals, are in play.