Solar Crosses Political, Ideological Lines

Re-post of excerpted article in SolarReviews by Chris Meehan

Normally when people think about renewable energy and who supports it, most think it’s primarily championed by liberals and Democrats. But a growing number of conservatives and Republicans—even Tea Party members—are supporting solar. In fact, two of the nation’s largest solar states have Republican Governors.

Take for instance, Georgia, where the conservative-led Public Services Commission (PSC) recently decided the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power, needs to add in 525 megawatts of solar by 2016—and 100 megawatts of that will come through distributed solar. The plan was introduced by Republican Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Jr., but also supported by other Republican Commissioners like Chuck Eaton.

Last year Eaton made wrote an op-ed which appeared on the That’s Just Peachy Roundtable about the conservative case for solar. “Since solar is almost 100 percent capital costs, with relatively small ongoing costs and no fuel requirement, the dramatic drop in solar panel costs will save Georgians millions of dollars over states that implemented solar earlier…” he said.

Ahead of the PSC’s decision, even the Tea Party came to solar’s side—after the Koch brother supported Americans for Prosperity contended that solar would raise rates by 40 percent there. “Apparently, they aren’t looking at the right numbers,” said Debbie Dooley, original co-founder of Tea Party movement. “There are lots of folks who are working in overdrive to support the monopoly’s efforts to quash solar.” She said that some special interests wanted to stop solar from free-market competition.

Solar also has the support of Barry Goldwater Jr. in Arizona, who is Chairman of TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed), a group that is fighting efforts by the state’s largest utility Arizona Public Service (APS) to kill its rooftop solar net-metering program.

In a statement on TUSK’s site Goldwater said, “As a son of Arizona, I know we have no greater resource than our sun. Republicans want the freedom to make the best choice and the competition to drive down rates.” He added, “That choice may mean they save money, and with solar that is the case. Solar companies have a track record of aggressively reducing costs in Arizona. We can’t let solar energy—and all its advantages and benefits it provides us—be pushed aside by monopolies wanting to limit energy choice. That’s not the conservative way and it’s not the American way.”

Arizona is one of three states with more than 1 gigawatt of solar installed, and its Governor, Janet Brewer (R), is hardly a liberal bastion. Yet during her inauguration speech in 2011 she pointed out the importance of solar. “We’ve been named the country’s solar king, offering the highest solar power potential in the nation, while attracting new companies—and at the same time rededicating ourselves to business retention,” she said. Arizona, “Will be a state with a solar industry that is the envy of the world, one which continues to lead with innovation and cost-effective technologies.” Since taking office most of that solar has been installed, with 273 megawatts coming online in 2011 and 710 megawatts coming online in 2012.

Solar also is taking off in New Jersey, one of the other states with more than 1 gigawatt of solar installed. There Republican Gov. Chris Christie—a potential Presidential candidate for 2016—has repeatedly signed bills to expand solar in the state. When he signed a bill last year that moved forward the state’s renewables requirements, primarily the state’s solar by increasing the number of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) that the state’s power providers must purchase, he renewed his support for renewables.

“Since my time running for office, I made it clear that my Administration would be unrivaled in our aggressive support for the development of renewable sources of energy in New Jersey,” Christie said in statement. “Renewable energy not only helps meet our goals of increasing sustainability and protecting the environment, but can be an engine for economic growth and the creation of good-paying jobs for the people of our state,” he said.

These are just a few of the conservative voices that are increasingly open about supporting solar, but none of them are on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., talking with fellow conservatives in the House and Senate about the need for more solar power and how to enact policies that will lead to more solar throughout the U.S. at lower costs.