Judge Judy made famous the line, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” PEC directors might want to keep that line in mind as they peddle the nonsense they are considering whereby PEC would join a lawsuit (via amicus brief) filed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation against the EPA and the Clean Power Plan Rules. TPP would obviously be thrilled to have the nation’s largest cooperative join them in a battle against the EPA. They would like to use us, our reputation and our politically ambitious board members as tools to advance their interests and agenda, not ours.
Reportedly, no other electric cooperative in the country has joined this suit. There is no indication that the Texas Electric Cooperatives (TEC) have any interest in touching this radioactive litigation. Austin Energy (a municipal utility, not a cooperative) is nowhere to be found on this suit and is, in fact, supporting the goals of the Clean Power Plan.
Who exactly is Texas Public Policy Foundation? In a nutshell, it is a Koch Brothers funded conservative think tank–a member of the right wing State Policy Network (SPN), based in Austin. It has ties to former Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz and other conservative politicians. Their other donors are a Who’s Who of Texas polluters and climate deniers, giant utilities and big insurance companies.
The Koch brothers, of course, are two of the richest people in the world and are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The Koch brothers, protecting their fossil fuel interests, have notoriously pushed back against solar energy and against regulations that would enable growth in the renewable energy sector. They have battled against clean energy mandates in several states.
Their tentacles now reach inside the board of directors of PEC. A board majority appears prepared to vote in favor of joining a lawsuit that will telegraph to the world that PEC is no longer interested in renewable energy. It will place PEC on a political trajectory that more than half of our members reject.
At the Monday November 9 meeting of the board, Director Emily Pataki advanced a discussion item benignly entitled, “Federal Clean Power Discussion”. She presented this item as if it was merely a discussion of the EPA’s Clean Power Rules and their financial impact to PEC . As Board President James Oakley commented “This is about impact only. It is not about being for or against renewables.”
Please President Oakley, don’t pee on my leg. Director Pataki’s seemingly innocuous discussion item was merely a prelude to an action that would engage PEC in a lawsuit and an affiliation that would almost certainly spell doom to PEC’s stated renewable energy plans adopted last March–an action that research indicated is strongly supported by PEC members.
Blaming the inability to do the right thing because of cost is an old saw. For years the auto industry resisted emissions standards, citing the cost to the consumer for their lawsuits and intransigence. Of course, cars were made cleaner and Americans paid a little more to get them. We led the world. Our cities would be choking like Bejing today if the auto industry had not been been forced to act. If the core argument is that we cannot afford to clean our environment, what price are we prepared to pay on the other side of the ledger with rising tides, melting icecaps, increased cancer and volatile climate change? Of course if you’re a troglodyte who believe there is no climate change because it snows in Washington every winter, then this article isn’t for you.
Ironically, joining this lawsuit would be redundant. PEC’s national trade association, NRECA (National Rural Electric Cooperatives Assn.) has already filed a lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan Rules. Their CEO is a conservative ideologue and energy know-nothing named Jo Ann Emerson (who was plucked from the revolving door of Congress in 2013).
Under her reign she has, from the beginning, stood before the membership and railed against the EPA. (Recall that the EPA was begun under the Republican Nixon administration). And who rules NRECA? One would think the answer would be electric cooperatives like PEC. But it is the generation and transmission giants who call the shots. And their interests are in protecting big COAL, OIL and GAS. NRECA does not represent cooperative interests in anything but name only–and PEC ought to resign its membership and stop paying them over $158,000 per year in fees.
Against all this railing against the EPA and the phony claims by our board that they are interested in “cost impacts” resulting from the Clean Power Plan Rules, the cost of solar and wind are at an all time low. We should be seizing on these bargain-basement prices NOW!
The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.
Austin Energy signed a deal this spring for 20 years of output from a solar farm at less than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour. In September, the Grand River Dam Authority in Oklahoma announced its approval of a new agreement to buy power from a new wind farm expected to be completed next year. Grand River estimated the deal would save its customers roughly $50 million from the project.
According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. In comparison, natural gas comes at 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal at 6.6 cents. Without subsidies, the firm’s analysis shows, solar costs about 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents.
PEC is at risk of falling behind the inevitable movement toward clean renewable energy. That genie is out of the bottle and is moving forward as sure as the pyramids held pharohs. Our members, as citizens of the United States and as part of the human race have a duty to do what is right for our environment, our public health and the welfare of our children. It need not come at an onerous cost. We should not join this odious rabbit hole of a lawsuit that will place PEC in the back seat of progress. We should not abandon our well-considered plans to move our energy needs away from coal and carbon based fuels. We can pursue a strategy of cost-competitive renewable energy. And we should stay out of divisive national politics that divide our members.