Real, authentic support for wind power vs. manufactured opposition: A look behind the scenes

18 June 2014 by David Ward David Ward

Wind power is supported by a wide majority of Americans and evidence suggests that where there's more wind power, there’s even more support. That support is backed up by real benefits.

American wind power creates good-paying jobs, attracts new private investment in our local, state, and national economies, keeps electricity rates low, and significantly reduces carbon emissions all across the country.

That’s why renewable energy opponents, like fossil fuel investors (and brothers) Charles and David Koch, are finding it increasingly difficult to manufacture opposition to policy supporting renewables' growth.

Earlier this spring the Washington Post reported despite Koch-funded lobbyists and their special interests groups’ best efforts, state and federal lawmakers are saying "thanks, but no thanks" to Koch and "yes" to common-sense policy growing renewable energy that grows their local economy and benefits their constituents.

To demonstrate this, here are some of the ways Koch-funded groups manufacture opposition to wind power and other renewables:

1) Manufacturing a Koch-funded network of groups into a "broad coalition" opposing the renewable energy PTC

Last week, the Koch-funded anti-renewable energy group Americans for Prosperity released its latest letter claiming a "broad coalition" of groups that are "diverse in size and scope" in opposition to an extension of the renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC). However, new analysis of their letter finds it mostly acts as a who’s who of Koch- and fossil-fuel funded groups.

Every year Americans for Prosperity issues a similar version of the letter in an attempt to attract media attention and persuade members of Congress to oppose the PTC using misinformation about wind power and its economic benefits. 

This week, the fact check group Energy & Policy Institute released an analysis illustrating how "broad" and "diverse" these organizations really are. Here are some of the findings:

  • More than half of the groups (51%) listed are either funded with Koch money or directly tied to the Koch political network.
  • 42 are local anti-wind groups, many of which have minimal public presence or are small collections of local anti-wind activists. Some of the local anti-wind groups listed attended a meeting organized by a fossil fuel front group in Washington, D.C. in 2012.
  • 21 of the groups have no public presence or a sparse online footprint.

The Energy and Policy's chart below illustrates these findings:

2) Hiring lobbyists who misinform members of Congress and the American public about the benefits of wind power
A June 13 New York Times editorial reports the Koch brothers have hired Don Nickles of the Nickles group to fight against wind power and the renewable energy Production Tax Credit. The editorial points out matching Mr. Nickles with the Koch brothers is a natural fit:

"...the Nickles group has been paid $75,000 every quarter for years by Anadarko Petroleum to lobby on tax and energy issues, including stopping the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, a Democratic bill that would have repealed $21 billion in tax breaks for energy companies in order to reduce the deficit...That kind of work made the firm the perfect place for the Kochs to take their business, particularly because campaign finance isn’t the only issue they are concerned about. They also hired the firm to lobby on 'issues related to the wind energy production tax credit.'"

Mr. Nickles went right to work attacking wind power and the PTC in a letter published in the New York Times just a few days before their editorial. In his letter, Mr. Nickles calls for an "objective look" at the tax credit and attacks the original version of the PTC for being enacted "more than 20 years ago."

Despite being paid by some of the most vocal opponents of wind power, Mr. Nickles never acknowledges his potential bias when giving the PTC that "look" and there's no acknowledgement that a) virtually all energy technologies – even conventional energy technologies that have been around for a century – receive various forms of federal government support and b) fossil fuels in their start-up period received five times more in government incentives than renewable energy has, with nuclear receiving 10 times as much.

The up-front tax relief of the PTC attracts private capital for building new wind farms, and it has proven to be a remarkable return on investment, as it more than pays for itself in local, state, and federal taxes, while attracting up to $25 billion a year of private investment into our national economy.

3) An aggressive ground operation that perhaps is a bit too aggressive
Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Andy Marso is reporting a Kansas Republican legislator named Scott Schwab is pushing back on aggressive Koch-funded lobbying practices in the Wheat State.

It has been well-documented that the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity was the main driver in the fight to dismantle Kansas' state renewable portfolio standard (RPS): a state policy encouraging the growth of wind power and other renewables and supported by over 90 percent of Kansas voters.

According to Marso, Schwab was bluntly told by representatives of Koch industries that he should vote for a bill to kill the state's RPS, even though no Kansas business was willing to go on record supporting it. In other words, Koch industries didn't care if the policy they backed was good business for Kansas, only if it was good business for Koch:

"According to Schwab's email, his troubles with the state’s “Renewable Portfolio Standards” started last year when a Koch Industries lobbyist approached him after a hearing on repealing the standards. During the hearing, Schwab had commented on the fact that only think tanks and no Kansas businesses testified in favor of repeal.

“After the meeting, Jonathan Small asked if I was supportive of the bill,” Schwab wrote. “I responded by asking who was pushing it, and he admitted it was Koch Industries. I told him if he wanted me to vote for the bill, then we needed some Kansas businesses to advocate it, because right now it looked as an anti-business vote. He told me at the time only Koch wanted the measure. I recommended that Koch testify then. Jon said if they did that, people would not like them. My response was that people don't like them anyway, so just be honest.”

Schwab's pushback did not sit well with representatives of Koch industries. Marso continues: 

"According to Schwab, Mike Morgan, Koch’s director of public and government affairs and Mark Nichols, the company’s vice president of the same division, confronted him at the conference about the renewable energy hearings...

"Schwab wrote that Nichols “took his business card, shoved it into my ribs on the left side and said from now on, if I wanted to talk to Jon Small, I needed to call him first for permission” and Morgan “aggressively let me know how horrible I was for not voting for the RPS bill (which I did vote for).”

"Schwab said he told Morgan that he needed some Kansas businesses to publicly say they wanted the renewable standards repealed, but Morgan wasn’t mollified."

“He then said that I would vote to keep hookers working in Kansas if it meant no businesses ask for it,” Schwab wrote. “To which I said, ‘Are you equating yourself to hookers?’ Needless to say, Mike's tone spiraled.”

The result didn't turn out well for Rep. Schwab. By claiming the integrity of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce was potentially compromised by showing preference to Koch industries instead of Kansas businesses, Rep. Schwab lost the support – and campaign contributions – of the Chamber.

Conclusion

Many Americans don't realize the harmful influence that the Koch Brothers' money is having on the growth of renewables.

Revelations about Americans for Prosperity’s so-called "broad coalition" letter opposing wind power and the PTC, the recent acquisition of Don Nickles to lobby against the PTC, and the reported heavy-handed approach by lobbying groups representing Koch industries in its fight to kill state policy encouraging wind power, are all clear examples of how the Koch brothers manufacture their support and aren't looking out for the best interests of Americans but for their own bottom lines.