By Stephen Lacey
Now that renewables are receiving some of the same incentives that fossil fuels have enjoyed for nearly one hundred years, we’re suddenly being inundated with calls for a purely “free-market” approach to energy development from politicians on the right and companies concerned about the growth of clean energy.
Their arguments make for good sound bites. But if we take a look at the history of energy development in the U.S., it’s very clear that we’ve never had a truly “free” market. In fact, all of the technologies that dominate our energy system today were given special incentives by the government in order to get them to commercial scale.
According to a recent report from the venture capital firm DBL Investors, the U.S. coal, oil, gas, and nuclear industries have cumulatively taken in more than $630 billion in tax credits, land grants, R&D programs, and direct investments from the government. That far surpasses the roughly $50 billion in government renewable energy investments (wind, solar PV, solar thermal, geothermal, biofuels) through these same mechanisms over the decades, according to the report.
But when renewable energy is given similar incentives — helping double the penetration of non-hydro renewable electricity since 2008 — the energy free-marketeers come out of hiding and lament how we’re supposedly “picking winners and losers.”
Solar Under Attack/Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)