(James Taylor) – The solar power industry claims a new poll it has commissioned shows Nevada voters will punish politicians who don’t expand solar power subsidies and mandates. Fortunately for American consumers and policymakers, the heavily promoted solar power poll indicates no such thing. Instead, the poll shows how desperate the solar power industry is to ramp up the expensive taxpayer subsidies that are necessary for the industry’s survival.
A solar industry front group known as Alliance for Solar Choice is touting a poll it commissioned to pressure Nevada legislators to expand the state’s far-reaching solar power subsidies. The poll’s summary claims, “The results of this survey show that likely voters in Nevada support solar energy. Likely voters in Nevada would be less likely (74%) to vote to re-elect their legislator or a statewide politician if he or she failed to raise the solar cap. Politicians who vote against raising the solar cap are jeopardizing their chances of re-election.” The summary further claims large majorities of Republicans and Democrats (at least a 69% supermajority of each) would be less likely to vote for legislators who do not favor expanding solar power subsidies and mandates.
Immediately beneath the solar power industry’s summary of the poll results, however, the actual poll questions and methodology reveal just how flawed the asserted poll results are.
The poll consists of two questions. The first question is: “As you may know, Nevada is a national leader in solar job growth, with 5,900 jobs and 146% industry job growth in 2014. Without an increase in the solar cap, these job increases would be in jeopardy. If you knew that your legislator or a statewide politician failed to raise the solar cap in Nevada, would you be more or less likely to vote to re-elect that legislator or statewide politician?”
Let’s break this down:
“As you may know, Nevada is a national leader in solar job growth, with 5,900 jobs and 146% industry job growth in 2014.”
Actually, I did not know that, and I doubt any of the poll respondents knew it either. Probably because it isn’t likely to be true. The poll question gives no independent citation or objective factual support for its 5,900 jobs claim. The jobs number appears to come from another solar industry front group known as the Solar Foundation. The true number is probably closer to 590.
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that the solar power industry’s asserted number is true. Federal taxpayers – Nevadans included – pay a minimum of 30% of the tab for solar power projects. On top of that, Nevada taxpayers hand over millions of dollars in state-specific solar power subsidies – thanks to the Nevada legislature – and local subsidies as well. Despite all this, the left-of-center Brookings Institution reports every increment of solar power that replaces conventional power causes a tripling of electricity costs. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports solar power costs anywhere from 300% to 500% the price of the most affordable conventional power.
Forcing people to pay substantially higher prices for the electricity they would otherwise purchase at low prices forces people to reduce the amount of goods and services they would purchase elsewhere in the economy. Reducing such purchases not only deprives people of housing, nutrition, education, health care, consumer goods, and consumer services that would make their lives more healthy and enjoyable, but it also kills jobs that would otherwise be created and sustained by higher spending in these sectors of the economy. The solar power industry can (dubiously) claim it employs 5,900 Nevadans, but the societal price for this still very small number of jobs is higher electricity prices for everyone, higher tax bills for everyone to pay for solar power subsidies, and jobs destroyed in every other sector of the economy as unnecessarily expensive electricity precludes people’s ability to purchase other desirable goods and services in those sectors.
Economists have quantified just how many jobs are destroyed by these higher electricity costs. Economists at Spain’s King Juan Carlos University found renewable energy programs kill 2.2 jobs throughout Spain’s economy for every 1 renewable energy job created. This suggests that even if the solar power industry employs 5,900 Nevadans, it comes at the expense of 12,980 Nevadans simultaneously put in the unemployment line by the solar power industry.
Economists at the British economic consulting firm Verso Economics found renewable energy programs kill 3.7 jobs throughout the United Kingdom’s economy for every 1 renewable energy job created. This suggests that even if the solar power industry employs 5,900 Nevadans, it comes at the expense of 21,830 Nevadans simultaneously put in the unemployment line by the solar power industry.
And even these painful unemployment numbers fail to capture the standard-of-living declines experienced by fully 3 million Nevadans as a result of paying unnecessarily high electricity prices.
Just as importantly, the (dubious) 5,900 solar power jobs are not even jobs “created,” but rather jobs “shifted” from other energy sectors. Solar power jobs are “created” only as a result of government killing jobs in the conventional energy sector by discouraging or preventing people from buying conventional power. If, as the solar power industry claims, all 5,900 Nevada solar industry jobs could go away if Nevada does not expand its solar power subsidies and mandates, people would then purchase their electricity from other, less expensive sources. This means the 5,900 solar power jobs would simply migrate to other forms of electricity production because people would now be demanding higher production of natural gas power, coal power, and other forms of power. Net electricity sector jobs would not decrease, they would merely be shifted to more efficient electricity sectors. Moreover, many additional jobs would be created in other sectors of the economy as a result of electricity consumers and taxpayers having more money in their pockets to spend on goods and services provided by these other industry sectors.
Indeed, few if any people would purchase expensive solar power – even with massive subsidies giving solar power a government-bestowed competitive advantage over conventional power providers – without Nevada laws forcing people to purchase solar power. The Nevada legislature requires people to purchase fully a quarter of their electricity from expensive renewable power by 2025, and solar power gets a guaranteed sub-share of this government-created monopoly. Not only do Nevada legislators pick the pockets of 3 million state residents to fund crony subsidies for the solar power industry, but they thereafter drain still more money from state residents by forcing them to purchase the expensive resultant solar power. Nevada legislators fleece state residents coming and going – forcing them to shell over money in back-door taxpayer subsidies in addition to shelling over money in front-door higher electricity prices.
Indeed, it is not hard to produce the solar power industry’s claimed “146% industry job growth” when legislators force taxpayers to give the solar power industry ever-higher amounts of subsidies and force state electricity consumers to purchase ever-higher amounts of solar power. Give me millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies and a captive consumer market and I can create a few thousand jobs, too. Enron and Bernie Madoff would still be living the financial high life if they had ever had it so good.
“Without an increase in the solar cap, these job increases would be in jeopardy.”
There is no “solar cap” in Nevada or anywhere else. Quite the opposite, Nevada electricity consumers are forced to purchase 15% (and 25% by 2025) of their power from the solar and renewable power industries. There is no ceiling to solar power, just a guaranteed solar power floor. But the solar power industry is not satisfied with its existing, government-created and government-enforced electricity monopoly. It wants more government-enforced guaranteed market share. In a through-the-looking-glass contortion of common sense, it argues anything short of laws forcing consumers to purchase all of their power from the solar power industry is a “cap” on solar power. By that logic, Apple iPhones are “capped” at zero percent market share, and yet half the American population seemingly has an iPhone.
Regardless of the solar power industry’s ridiculous definition of market caps, it defies reason to assert that new and costlier subsidies and mandates are necessary to maintain the (dubious) existing 5,900 jobs. If the solar power industry’s existing amount of subsidies and mandates were sufficient to create and maintain 5,900 jobs, by what logic are new and more expensive subsidies and mandates necessary to keep this small number of jobs from going away? And if an ever-increasing amount of subsidies and mandates are necessary to maintain the very small number of solar power jobs created by existing subsidies and mandates, isn’t that the proof in the pudding that the solar power industry is nothing more than an Enron/Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme? According to the solar power industry itself, an ever-increasing amount of subsidies and mandates are necessary to sustain the jobs allegedly created by existing subsidies and mandates, meaning that larger and larger subsidies and mandates will always be required. When the inevitable comes and taxpayers and electricity consumers can no longer afford to keep ramping up the ever-higher subsidies and mandates, the whole scheme will collapse like a house of cards. When private individuals execute such a scheme, they go to prison; when the solar power industry executes such a scheme, Barack Obama and Joe Biden show up for media photo ops.
“If you knew that your legislator or a statewide politician failed to raise the solar cap in Nevada, would you be more or less likely to vote to re-elect that legislator or statewide politician?”
Let’s put this in more straightforward and accurate terms: “Very few Nevadans are even minimally aware of all the subsidies, mandates, crony politics, and economic costs of solar power. If we are allowed to create a captive audience of such people and require them to listen to a minute-long, focus group-tested propaganda speech that completely distorts political reality and economic facts, what percent of this captive audience will likely agree with our message?” Heck, anything short of 100% demonstrates complete incompetency on the part of the solar power propagandists.
Let’s move on to Question 2:
“As you may know, Nevada, along with 43 other states, has a policy called net metering that allows homeowners, businesses, and schools to get retail credit for the extra energy their solar panels produce. This extra solar energy goes onto the electricity grid for neighbors to use, and the utility resells the energy at the same retail rate. Based on what you know today, would you say that you support or oppose this policy?”
Let’s break this polling question down, also:
“As you may know, Nevada, along with 43 other states, has a policy called net metering that allows homeowners, businesses, and schools to get retail credit for the extra energy their solar panels produce.”
This question presents a very novel definition of the word “allow.” Net metering requiresutility customers to purchase any electricity not used by people who have pocketed enormous subsidies to purchase solar power equipment. Saying that forcing people to purchase the solar power industry’s product against their will is merely a system that “allows” the solar power industry to sell its product is like saying that forcing people to purchase Obamacare against their will is merely a system that “allows” people to purchase Obamacare. Of course, the polling question never alerts its respondents that such a novel definition of the word “allows” is being employed here.
“…homeowners, businesses, and schools…”
A more accurate description of these net metering entities would read, “a small number of subsidized homeowners, businesses, and government entities….” The use of the word “schools” here is quite clever. Government comes in all sorts of forms: zoning code enforcers, the IRS, and the Department of Motor Vehicles are just a few. Rather than using the most accurate term, “government,” or even a comprehensive list of government agencies including the much reviled zoning code enforcers, IRS, and Department of Motor Vehicles, the solar power industry cherry-picks and presents solely the most rose-colored of government appendages, public schools. Employing rhetorical tactics that are as good for the goose as for the gander, one could in one fell swoop reverse the polling results by changing “homeowners, businesses, and schools” to “subsidy-receiving drug dealers, used car salesmen, convicted felons, zoning code enforcers, the IRS, and the Department of Motor Vehicles.” It would be just as accurate – and similar-in-kind – to the solar power industry’s definitional cherry-picking.
“…to get retail credit….”
More accurately, “to get retail credit” should read, “to force people to purchase, whether they want to or not.”
“This extra solar energy goes onto the electricity grid for neighbors to use, and the utility resells the energy at the same retail rate.”
The solar power industry has a very interesting conception of the term “neighbors.” The word “neighbors” implies a fairly close, friendly relation. Neighbors are people you know, like, and do favors for. Yet here the solar power industry is seeking to force people to give it more subsidies and purchase more of its prohibitively expensive product. One doesn’t engage in such aggressive, predatory conduct with one’s close, friendly “neighbors.” But the solar power industry hides such aspects of its conduct from its poll respondents.
The solar power industry similarly has a very interesting conception of the term “use.” The word “use” implies borrowing or utilizing something in a manner that is voluntary, cost-free, and beneficial. One “uses” a neighbor’s lawn mower when his own lawn mower unexpectedly breaks down. By contrast, when the Department of Motor Vehicles forces you to pay $100 each year to register and drive your car, most people do not generally refer to this involuntary imposition as “using” a DMV sticker. It is “purchasing” or, more accurately, “being forced to purchase” a DMV sticker. Similarly, when the solar power industry uses crony connections to get government to force people to subsidize and purchase its product, it is not making its product available “for neighbors to use.”
The solar power industry also has a novel conception of the term “same retail rate.” Utilities do not generate or purchase power from coal, natural gas, hydro, or nuclear power facilities at retail end-point electricity prices. Utilities obtain power at wholesale prices and then undertake the effort and expense of building and maintaining an electric grid, routing electricity from the larger grid to each individual business and residence, repairing equipment after storms and mishaps, building and operating facilities for its many business efforts, and paying employees and stockholders who would not otherwise work for free or invest their hard-earned money in a business with no possible rate of return. Forcing utilities to purchase already heavily-subsidized solar power at the “retail rate” rather than the customary “wholesale rate” means every electricity consumer who does not sell solar power to the utilities at retail prices will now have to pay higher electricity prices to cover the many utility expenses that necessitate the difference between wholesale power prices and retail prices. It is quite misleading to use the word “same” in any context while comparing wholesale power prices to retail electricity prices.
“Based on what you know today, would you say that you support or oppose this policy?”
Let’s put this in more straightforward and accurate terms: “Based on all these lies and misrepresentations, delivered without any differing points of view, are you likely to support or oppose our point of view?” Again, anything short of 100% support under such circumstances demonstrates complete incompetency on the part of the solar power propagandists. The truly remarkable thing about the poll results is that only 70% of respondents, after listening to the false and misleading solar power propaganda, indicated they support net metering programs.
The false and deceptive wording of the polling questions was not the only obvious defect in this poll. Of Nevada’s 3 million residents, the solar power industry selected merely 300 to participate in the poll. Even if the polling participants were chosen objectively according to representative proportions (a highly dubious proposition, given the agenda-driven wording of the questions themselves), what is the margin of error when selecting only 300 people for the survey? The solar power industry’s poll should come with a disclaimer: “The following poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 84 percentage points.”
Of course, any industry that would go to such great lengths to distort the facts and issues in such a poll is just as likely to nefariously choose its polling participants. Want to show that even Republicans support your big-government solar power policies? Make sure you select Republican participants from liberal metro Las Vegas rather than grassroots conservatives outside Elko. Throw in a good measure of participants from Carson City and its brood of state government employees to boot.
The blatant flaws, self-serving agenda, and utter lack of credibility of the solar power industry’s ends-driven poll may be obvious to you, me, and every five-year-old who stumbles across it, but what about the liberal mainstream media? I suspect the media would completely ignore a similarly flawed poll commissioned by the coal industry or Big Oil, or maybe highlight such a poll in comic punch lines in house editorials throughout the nation. But when the media-darling solar power industry produces such a joke of a poll, the coverage is entirely devoid of critical analysis or minimal scrutiny. Here, for example, are just a few of the media headlines touting the poll:
“Poll: Majority of voters would disfavor candidates who block rooftop solar” – Las Vegas Sun
“Solar energy poll results called warning for Nevada legislators” – Las Vegas Review-Journal
“Poll Shows Nevadans Want Increase In Net Metering” – Nevada Public Radio
Liberal Nevada political blogger Jon Ralston put it best in a Twitter post, “Does anyone really think voters would seek to defeat lawmakers on the issue of net metering? You must be joking.”
Sadly enough, the solar power industry and its liberal media allies are attempting to be serious.
Mr. Taylor is a senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News. This column was originally published at Forbes.com.