Exposing Koch-Funded Groups and Their Dubious Claims About Renewable Portfolio Standards

The Wall Street Journal frequently opens its pages to fossil-fuel-funded front groups and individuals to launch blatantly false attacks on our country's burgeoning clean energy industry. A week ago Friday was no exception, with the paper printing a misleading, anti-clean energy screed by two leaders in the group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP). A bit of background on AFP tells us what we're dealing with here.

First, fossil fuel industry interests, including the American Petroleum Institute and the Koch brothers, heavily fund the group. Second, AFP relentlessly pushes the supposed virtues of fossil fuels and the supposed ills of wind and solar power, twisting the evidence - and spending a great deal of money to spread the resulting propaganda around as widely as possible.

In the Wall Street Journal piece, for instance, the AFP members cite highly dubious, cherry-picked numbers from three other fossil fuel industry front groups: the Koch-funded Institute for Energy Research, the Koch-funded Manhattan Institute and the Koch-funded Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University.  They do this in an effort to misinform the public and policymakers about bipartisan and universally popular Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).

As for the AFP's dubious claims about electricity prices in RPS states, DBL Investors found that the 10 states using mostly renewables had cheaper electricity prices, on average, than the 10 states making use of the least amount of renewables. The reason for this is simple: the cost of clean energy has plummeted in the past few years, to the point where it's less expensive than coal or natural gas in many parts of the country, as The New York Times reported late last year. Keep in mind that this is the case despite the massive taxpayer-funded government subsidies that have been provided for decades to the fossil fuel lobby. Finally, a 2014 Lazard report found that the cheapest forms of energy in the United States are now energy efficiency, utility-scale solar power and onshore wind.

Given all this, it's not surprising that clean energy is wildly popular across the country. No wonder the Koch brothers' efforts at stopping clean energy's progress in Kansas -  their and my home state -  were beaten back four years in a row. Meanwhile, investors and utilities see the value of wind, with Kansas blowing past its 20% by 2020 RPS five years early. The best the Koch brothers could do was to get an already-exceeded RPS converted into a "voluntary" goal.

A big part of the reason why the Koch brothers keep losing is that support for clean energy is broad and bipartisan, with a great deal of Republican support among farmers, county commissioners, local chambers of commerce and economic development officials. Even the Tea Party is pushing back against Koch-funded groups in Kansas, Tennessee and Florida.

In desperation, the Koch brothers are now using front groups like AFP to crank up the volume on their spin machine in an effort to spread misinformation about clean energy and RPS laws, including against North Carolina's bipartisan and hugely successful RPS.

Here's the truth: States that continue to embrace renewable energy standards are reaping the economic benefits. In June, for instance, a broad coalition of rural conservatives and local businesses rejected an attempt to end Texas' RPS, even as renewable energy is bringing in huge amounts of private investments while keeping Texans' electricity prices low. It's worth noting that 29 states maintain RPS standards, and that half a dozen states - including Hawaii, Vermont and California - are actually in the process of expanding and extending their RPS laws. On the flip side, Koch-funded groups have pushed anti-RPS bills in Colorado, New Mexico and New Hampshire, and each time they failed.

In the end, the powerful economic and technological improvements that we've seen in recent years are helping to advance solar, wind and other forms of renewable electricity. Add in strong, bipartisan public and business resistance to efforts aimed at slowing this country's clean energy boom, and it's no wonder fossil fuel interests are resorting to desperate tactics such as the propaganda piece by AFP in The Wall Street Journal.