Civil War on the Left, Part 16

Now this is my kind of story, from the Los Angeles Times today:

Minority Groups Fight Solar Power

By Evan Halper

When Florida officials pulled the plug on a significant incentive for rooftop solar systems, the move came at the urging of big power companies with a heavy reliance on fossil fuels—and of the state chapter of the NAACP.

The Florida chapter is one of a number of minority organizations that have aligned with utilities. Their backing has given power companies a potent ally in their fight to slow the spread of solar energy installations.

The groups are pressing their case aggressively even as the national NAACP and other large civil rights organizations back solar incentives, arguing they are key to shutting down dirty power plants that contribute to elevated rates of asthma and other diseases in low-income communities.

The groups that have lined up on the utilities’ side are showing up in legislative hearing rooms, regulatory proceedings and on newspaper op-ed pages to make the case that what they call unjust incentives favoring the wealthy undermine the virtues of solar power.

Well duh. Just who did everyone think was going to take advantage of subsidies and tax credits for rooftop solar systems? Now your average resident of the ‘hood.  More like the same people who buy a Tesla as their third car just to be cool.  I know when I took advantage of California’s lavish subsidies to install a rooftop solar system on a house I briefly owned I was most grateful to the state’s middle class taxpayers for subsidizing my property-value enhancing improvement. It’s enough to give heartburn to your oh-so-sensitive Sierra Club liberal.

The excerpt of the story here contains some the usual embedded misperceptions, however. Utility opposition to the spread of rooftop solar isn’t primarily because they have a “heavy reliance on fossil fuels;” a nuclear-only utility will eventually sour on the spread of rooftop solar because of the increasing cross-subsidy required of the rate base, and because of the power reserve and grid stability issues it will present. (I’ll deal with the red herring of “grid parity” some other time.) Most regulated utilities are happy to go along enthusiastically with rooftop solar programs because it is good PR, until it starts to get adopted widely enough, when they change their mind. (Because “regulated utility” is a euphemism for “corporate socialist.”)

And those “dirty plants” that need shutting down? There aren’t too many power plants that have escaped emissions controls on conventional air pollutants like SO2, NOx, and particulates, though further emissions upgrades are still due on some. There’s a bait-and-switch going on here: when an environmentalist says “dirty” power plant today, she means one that emits carbon dioxide, which does not cause acute local health problems.

There is no linkage between air pollution and the onset of asthma in poor or any other communities (ironically, it is rich and clean air counties like Marin in California that have the highest asthma rates), though conventional air pollution can trigger an attack in people who have asthma. But this story unwittingly contains the key to understanding why there are higher rates of respiratory and other diseases in “low-income communities.” Think maybe low-income has something to do with it? That question always seems to elude the grasp of even the most experienced reporters. I’m sure Brian Williams can sort this out in his next career stop as a professor of journalism at Columbia.


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