Why Conservatives Should Take a Fresh Look at Solar Energy
Solar power in the U.S. continues to grow by leaps and bounds – installations soared in 2015 as prices fell, and 2016 seems likely to be another record-breaking year. At the end of December, Congress extended the investment tax credit for solar and wind projects, sending stock prices up as well as orders for new installations. This article in The New York Times explains why solar subsidies are a very good thing, whether you’re a conservative or a liberal.
Conservatives tend to place a high value on independence – and renewable energy adds an element of freedom and competition to the market that didn’t exist before. Now, more and more consumers have the option of choosing their energy supplier. Solar energy also provides social benefits that everyone can appreciate (but that the market doesn’t necessarily reflect), such as cleaner air and lower power bills.
To those who object to government support on principle, the author explains that the government has a strong history of success in helping new energy technologies get over market hurdles. He also points out that the fossil fuel industry has received a far greater amount of subsidies over the years than renewables have. Lastly, the tax credit will get smaller as solar panels get more efficient. So rather than propping up the industry, the subsidies will help solar power thrive on its own.
Energy independence, a cleaner environment, a solution that uses American innovation rather than relying on outdated technology – these are all reasons to love solar, whatever your political leanings.
By Ben Ho, contributor to The New York Times
To many skeptics, particularly on the right, the spectacular failure of the solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra in 2011, after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, demonstrated the industry’s shaky future and the danger of government efforts to subsidize it to success.
Fast forward to today. Solar energy prices have continued to fall rapidly, twice as many Americans work in the solar industry as in coal mining, and last year one-third of new electricity generation came from solar power.
Solar, long viewed through the lens of crony capitalism, has shown the ability to inject real market competition in energy distribution, one of the last monopolies in the energy sector, while improving the efficiency of the grid and putting more dollars in the pockets of middle-class Americans. Conservatives, in other words, need to take another look at solar.
The case for solar isn’t limited to prices and jobs. Consumers want choice. Unfortunately, in most markets around the country, electricity is still one of the few areas where we have virtually no choice over our supplier. Imagine you want to buy a G.M. car, but you were told you can buy only a Toyota. You’d be outraged — yet this is how almost all Americans are forced to procure their electricity.
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