ALEC’s ominous political wind threatens clean energy job growth in Pa.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally appeared in E2’s newsletter in April 2013. Since then, ALEC has continued to threaten the growth of the clean energy sector in Pennsylvania and beyond. In 2014, for instance, ALEC is pushing legislation aimed at preventing states like Pennsylvania from implementing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the EPA plan could create 5,100 direct energy efficiency jobs in Pennsylvania and save commercial and industrial businesses in the Keystone State alone more than $241 million in 2020.

By Jeff Benzak

About eight years ago, E2 member Jacob Susman invested his personal savings in his new wind energy business. Since then, Susman’s company, OwnEnergy, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., has grown into a successful business that’s developed and sold three separate wind energy projects, with more in the pipeline.

One of Susman’s completed projects is the Patton Wind Farm. Located about a two-hour drive east of Pittsburgh, the 30-megawatt project was developed on land that’s been farmed by the same Pennsylvania family for six generations. Capable of generating enough electricity to power about 9,000 homes, the Patton Wind Farm is testament to America’s fast-growing wind industry. It’s also located in a state that in 2004 enacted a renewable portfolio standard.

Pennsylvania’s standard calls for electric utilities to supply 18 percent of their energy from alternative sources by 2020. Recently, however, market-driven renewable energy standards in Pennsylvania and other states have been under attack. Often these attacks originate from groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative think-tank founded in Chicago 30 years ago.

Susman said renewable portfolio standards are worth defending. He said the standards have helped grow the U.S. wind energy industry, a position that’s shared by economists and policy experts.

“At this stage, we’re now up to 60 gigawatts of wind energy nationwide,” Susman said. “Four percent of our nation gets it electricity by wind power. Last year there were more new wind power plants than any other kind of new power plant, by megawatts, and there was more new wind capacity in the U.S. than in any other country.

“None of that would be happening if we didn’t have 29 states with renewable portfolio standards in place,” Susman said.

To see how own OwnEnergy is providing local landowners in rural areas in Pennsylvania and beyond with opportunities to generate additional income from wind energy, watch this video:

More than 2,000 state legislators from all 50 states are ALEC members. One of the ways ALEC is working to weaken state renewable portfolio standards is to author model legislation. Titled the “Electricity Freedom Act,” model legislation designed to repeal the standards includes language stating that the standards harm the economy.

ALEC’s model legislation states “no state or nation has enhanced economic opportunities for its citizens or increased Gross Domestic Product through renewable energy standards.” The legislation continues: “…. due to the renewable energy mandate a tremendous amount of economic growth is sacrificed for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that would have no appreciable impact on global concentrations of greenhouse gases.”

Every year, close to 1,000 bills based at least in part on model ALEC legislation are introduced in various states. Of these, an average of 20 percent, or about 200 bills, become law, according to ALEC. The Wall Street Journal reported that bills to scale back state renewable portfolio standards have been introduced in at least 14 states.

One of those states is North Carolina. On March 13, Rep. Mike Hager, an ALEC member and chair of North Carolina’s Public Utilities Committee, introduced House Bill 298, or the “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act.” Though not written with language matching ALEC’s model legislation, the bill would halt further implementation of North Carolina’s renewable energy portfolio standards, which in 2007 passed with strong bipartisan support. These standards have helped grow job opportunities in North Carolina’s clean energy and clean transportation sectors, E2 found.

As the Washington Post reported last November, ALEC supports its repeal efforts by citing economic analyses of state renewable energy policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. These analyses have been widely discredited. Critics of the reports say they inflate the cost of renewable energy; reduce the cost of competing fossil fuels; discount the value of energy efficiency; and ignore the positive net economic benefits renewable energy delivers to communities.

Susman thinks rolling back renewable energy standards is a step in the wrong direction. He said arguments put forward by ALEC and other organizations sound like they come from “people who fear the future.”

With its strong hedge value of locking in long-term costs instead of floating on the price of natural gas, wind has become an important and accepted part of the U.S. energy mix, Susman said. In Pennsylvania, Patton Wind Farm created about 100 construction jobs. Over the next 20 years, it will generate $8 million in income for participating landowners and neighbors.

Jeff Benzak is E2’s press secretary.