Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies

By John Justman

Think global. Act local. Sounds good. However, beware of unforeseen consequences. And that’s just what we’re in for, lots of unpleasant side effects, if we aren’t careful heading down the road to “Green"ville.

No one disputes the wisdom of developing sustainable, renewable energy sources. No one, other than comic book characters, wants to destroy our planet. But let’s allow innovation and the free market, rather than government fiat, to guide us. How can we “act locally” when faced with mandates from Denver and D.C.?

Environmentalism has become religion. So many of the rules, regulations and mandates being foisted upon us stem from emotional ideologies with little or no basis in reality. It’s fine when the government sets goals and encourages enterprise. But that is not what’s happening in the headlong rush to “save the planet.”

Let’s slow down; let’s be rational. Let’s learn from Europe’s mistakes.

Here in Mesa County, Grand Valley Transit added two compressed natural gas buses to the county’s fleet last year. This makes sense. CNG is cleaner and less expensive than diesel, and it’s produced right here in Colorado. That’s how thinking globally and acting locally should work.

Unfortunately, actions like this year’s Colorado Senate Bill 252 defy logic. SB252 arbitrarily doubled (to 20 percent) mandated renewable energy requirements for rural cooperatives. That doesn’t affect Mesa County so much, but it certainly harms our neighbors. We should not be happy about seeing our friends in Delta, Montrose and elsewhere facing enormously escalating utility prices because Gov. John Hickenlooper disregarded common sense and good business practice to bow at the altar of environmentalism when he signed SB252.

Following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the “green lobby” in Germany forced the phasing out of the country’s nuclear power plants in coming years. Germany dedicated $140 billion to develop an enormous solar network with more than 400 terawatt hours of renewable capacity. However, the best it has ever generated is fewer than 70 terawatt hours annually.

In late December 2011 and January 2012, Germany’s huge solar-powered systems generated almost no electricity at all because of overcast days. To keep the lights on, Germany is now building coal-fired power plants.

Wisely, this past January, Germany capped and froze further subsidies to green energy.

Europe aspires to be the world’s leader in green energy, but it’s interesting to note that while European countries have gone all-in on the green bandwagon, the United States (which, unlike Europe, did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol) is the only nation whose reduced carbon emissions are on track to actually meet the Kyoto goals.

England’s results, likewise, are not encouraging. At least the Brits know they don’t get a lot of sunshine. So, they invested in wind. Now, it seems, they don’t like the ugly, noisy, undependable, bird-killing windmills. In 2010, during the four highest demand periods of the year, windmills produced an average of only 3.83 percent of the needed power.

A cold, windless spell last January left more than 1 million homes short of power. Several coal- and oil-powered generation plants were fired up to cover the shortfall. These generation plants are slated to be disassembled next year. What will Britain do for emergency power shortages then?

Here in Mesa County, more than a dozen energy rebates and tax credits are available to help make our homes and businesses more energy efficient. Programs like these are baby steps, but they work, and they are getting us closer to energy independence and a cleaner environment.

Can America learn from Europe’s experiences before we waste hundreds of billions more? Can anyone say Solyndra? Solyndra is the most notorious green-energy failure, but there are many more projects which have already cost Americans billions of dollars.

I’m not saying green energy is not worth exploring and developing. But I firmly believe that the free market will solve this challenge.

The natural gas industry here has undergone huge changes in the last seven years, making us the world leader in drilling innovation. Recently, one well in Garfield County produced more gas in 90 days than most wells used to produce in 20 years. And it will produce for another 20 years.

Sound scientific advancements have opened up vast supplies of cheap energy in this country, and by 2025 we could be energy independent — something not dreamed possible 20 years ago. The clean energy people lobbied to shut down coal-powered generators to promote green energy, but had no idea that natural gas production could be ramped up so much, so quickly.

Now, their knee-jerk reaction is to attack natural gas.

Europe’s business community is worried about losing manufacturing jobs to the U.S. because of electric rates that are 50 percent higher than in our country. Our huge supply of natural gas at very affordable rates makes that possible. With our wealth of oil and gas this could be a boon to Mesa County.

European policymakers have put their countries way behind the economic curve. The only way they will catch up is if we copy their failed policies. Locally, our economic development group, GJEP, should be looking to Europe to attract business to the Grand Valley.

Andrew McKillop, former energy analyst for the European Commission, summed it up: “The European Union is wracked by sovereign debt, budget deficits, monetary weakness, slow economic growth, trade deficits and mass unemployment, but it has the supposedly proud role of world leader in Green Energy Transition.”

With our national debt zooming toward $17 trillion and ongoing economic malaise, we can choose to follow in Europe’s footsteps. Or we can choose a free-market path that will benefit the nation and Mesa County in particular.

John Justman is a Mesa County commissioner. This column reflects his personal views.


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The Daily Sentinel’s thoughtful editorial (“Time to get creative with cultural amenities”) and Mesa County Commissioner John Justman’s predictable op-ed column (“Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies”) aptly illustrates the schizophrenia that pervades what passes for local “conservative” thought.

To paraphrase Justman, free-market conservatism “has become a religion”.  So much of its knee-jerk opposition to sensible “rules, regulations, and mandates” crafted to protect our air, water, and environment “stem from emotional ideologies with little or no basis in reality”.  In fact, the reality is that such governmental initiatives are necessitated by the failure of the profit-driven “free market” to adequately mitigate the problems it causes.

Justman’s example of the Grand Valley Transit Authority – which would not exist without both federal grants and governmental support – illustrates his confusion.  Yes, it “makes sense” – to exploit the local availability of cheap natural gas to reduce harmful diesel emissions, but “free market policies” did not “aid Mesa County”, governmental subsidies did.

So, “let’s [NOT] slow down; let’s be rational.  Let’s learn from Europe’s mistakes” and from our own local experience.  Being truly “rational” means harnessing cheap wind and solar energy in areas with fewer clouds and more sun/reliable wind than northern Europe – even if that means redirecting subsidies from oil and gas to those cleaner alternatives and mandating that rural electric cooperatives achieve renewable energy requirements.

Rationally, that also means un-begrudgingly admitting that much of our local economy depends on non-profit and not-for-profit endeavors which make available both medical care and health insurance that the “free market” would not by itself provide.

Thus, like it or not – as both the Daily Sentinel and Hillary Clinton suggest – “it takes a village” working cooperatively with its government to generate recognize “the economic benefits of cultural amenities” and/or to incentivize private enterprise to develop them.

Apparently, John Justman’s notion of “Think global. Act local” (“Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies”, Sep. 1, 2013) includes permitting the heavily subsidized oil and gas industry to consume and/or despoil the unique “cultural amenities” (“Time to get creative with cultural amenities”, Sep. 1, 2013) along the pastoral byways of East Orchard Mesa and Palisade.  Thus, readers should wonder whether Justman would be so cavalier about a continuous procession of heavy trucks through his own agricultural property near Fruita. 

Similarly, while Justman is wary of imaginary “unintended consequences” of subsidizing renewable energy sources, he remains blithely unconcerned about the actual and proven “consequences” of over-reliance on fossil fuels.  Impliedly, Justman would have Mesa County return to the “boom and bust” days – when our local economy was dependent on “oil shale” and now languishes when the price of local natural gas is too low to induce the “free-market” to develop it – and dismisses global climate change as a socialist myth.

In reality, Justman religiously endorses the same short-sighted policies responsible for “our national debt zooming toward $17 trillion and ongoing economic malaise”.  Reagan tripled the national debt; George Bush doubled it again—leaving President Obama with two un-budgeted wars and an economic collapse.

One piece of common sense with which Justman should be familiar is that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – which (because 16 ounces make a pound) means that preventative “rules, regulations, and mandates” are justified when their costs are less than 6.25% of the expense of remediating the anticipated (even if probabilistic) damage.

Thus, readers should ask:  what is it worth to avoid the consequences of the Grand Valley falling into non-compliance with breathable air standards?  And, what is it worth to preserve local orchards’ tourist-attracting beauty and hard-earned reputation for quality?

Natural Gas is glutted as a consumer commodity, and the natural gas lobby—led by COGA and championed by GOP stalwarts, including then-Senate GOP leader Josh Penry along with some conservation groups pushed for transitioning power plants in CO from coal to Nat Gas, which is (see above) glutted on the market and thus plentiful and cheaper than coal—especially when you consider things like dirty air which costs both people and business money. Market mechanism #1: externalities make NatGas a cheaper source of power than coal; Market mechanism #2:  glutted NatGas supply forces consumer (powerplant) response.

Mr. Justman believes in the free market but since 1995 he has applied for and received $180,000 in agriculture subsidies from the Federal Government.

Apparently, my previous on-line comments regarding Mesa County Commissioner John Justman’s recent op-ed piece—“Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies”, Sep. 1, 2013) – mistakenly characterized his predictable “conservative” tripe as evincing “schizophrenia”.  Outright “hypocrisy” is more apt.

As Doug Hovde reports, since 1995, Justman has received “$180,000 in agricultural subsidies from the federal government”.  Thus, his column might better have been titled “Farm subsidies – not free-market policies – aid John Justman (if not Mesa County)”.

That title would also be entirely consistent with his conduct as former Chairman of the Mesa County Planning Commission, when he ignored “conflict of interest” strictures by advocating and voting for changes to our Land Use Code which enhanced the potential market value of his agricultural property near Fruita (held “in trust” in his wife’s name).

Thus, while Justman professes religious devotion to the “free-market” and disdain for “green energy subsidies”, he fully embraces both agricultural and oil & gas subsidies.

Justman’s apparent addiction to farm subsidies is revealing.  In July, the Governmental Accountability Office (“GAO”) released a report criticizing subsidy payments to—and failure to recoup them from—deceased farmers.  In August, the GAO recommended more stringent audits of farmers claiming income-eligibility for subsidies.

In response, after the Senate voted to cap eligibility at $250,000 of “average adjusted farm income”, and Congressman Scott Tipton and his cronies on the House Agricultural Committee (several of whom, like Justman, receive direct farm subsidy payments) voted initially to increase that limit to $750,000, they then voted to eliminate any income test whatsoever (while at the same time de-funding the entire Food Stamp program). 

Thus, rather than rely on the “free-market”, Justman and his like-minded Repugnicans prefer to subsidize already profitable corporate and individual farmers, rather than help smaller, less-profitable farmers achieve “free-market” success.

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