The Green Tea Party  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Guardian has an article by ReNew Economy's Giles Parkinson on the emergence of the "green tea party" - libertarians who are in favour of decentralised energy generation - How the far right developed an unlikely interest in solar energy. I've always been baffled by "conservatives" who want state subsidies and guarantees for massive nuclear power plants for example, following in the footsteps of the French (and even Soviet) left who trod exactly the same path - though at least in their case it was compatible with their ideology as opposed to being total hypocrisy.

From the day in 1986 when president Ronald Reagan pulled down the solar array that had sat briefly atop the White House, conservative politicians in the US and elsewhere have had a growing antipathy towards renewables. Many conservatives, particularly those on the far right, simply refuse to believe solar can play a useful role in modern energy systems, and paint it as an unwarranted extension of government regulation.

It has frustrated many in the solar industry. “Let's make sure that before anyone paints me as some San Franciscan, solar-company-running, ultra-left-wing-fruitcake, please know that I am assuredly not,” David Lorens, the founder of solar company One Block Off The Grid, wrote last year.“I'm a fiscal conservative, I own a gun, and capitalism is the blood that runs through my veins. So back off.”

Now, in the state of Georgia, there has been a dramatic split in conservative attitudes. The local branch of the Tea Party has aligned itself with solar interests and environmental NGOs to force the monopoly utility Georgia Power to open its network to more solar power. Ironically, it has little to do with the need to with climate goals. It is being fought – as Lorens suggests – as a property rights issue, pitting private citizens against utilities, regulators and fixed rates of return.

This push to elevate solar energy as an individual right is being carried by the new economic case for solar power: the plunging cost of solar modules – they have fallen 80% in the last four years – means households can install rooftop systems and lower their electricity bills. The emergence of these "prosumers" is challenging the revenue and the profit pool for network operators and fossil fuel generators.

Even analysts at major investment banks describe the proliferation of solar as unstoppable. The Edison Electric Institute, a trade group that represents most investor owned utilities in the US, says solar is a direct threat to the centralised utility model, and could cause “irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects.”

This explains why lobby groups are dead set against the Georgia solar decision. Americans for Prosperity, which like the Tea Party have been nurtured and sponsored by the Koch brothers oil billionaires, is dismissing the Georgia faction as an aberration, or even more damming, as a “green Tea Party.” It has sought to turn the issue of rights on its head by arguing that rooftop solar will “infringe upon the territorial rights to the distribution grids” of the network operators.

It sets the stage for an intriguing clash of two strands of conservative thought – one that remains true to its ideology of individual rights against centralised control, and the other where ideology is cherry-picked and co-opted for the protection of vested and incumbent interests.

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