Sunday, February 10, 2013

An American Surrender

Chalk this one up to American exceptionalism.   Fox business editor Shibani Joshi went on Fox and Friends on Thursday to deliver up some corporate-friendly red meat.  The exchange was described by Will Oremus on Slate (video included):

She and her co-host went on to ridicule Obama's "failed" solar subsidies, adding, "The United States simply hasn't figured out how to do solar cheaply and effectively. You look at the country of Germany, it's working out great for them." Near the end of the segment, it occurred to Carlson to ask her expert guest, Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, why it might be that Germany's solar-power sector is doing so much better. "What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?" Carlson asked.

Joshi's jaw-dropping response: "They're a smaller country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do." In case that wasn't clear enough for some viewers, Joshi went on: "The problem is it's a cloudy day and it's raining, you're not gonna have it." Sure, California might get sun now and then, Joshi conceded, "but here on the East Coast, it's just not going to work."

To be fair, as the map (from the National Resources Energy Laboratory via Slate via Media Matters) below indicates, there is a portion of the United States of America which gets as little annual sunlight as does Germany.  It's called Alaska.  And a tiny sliver of the Pacific Northwest, though not most of either Washington State or Oregon.

In the segment on GOP TV, Joshi frets over the "billions that have gone in" for subsidies to solar energy while, citing the fossil fuel and nuclear industries, she maintains "subsidies in and of themselves are not bad."

She has nothing to complain about.  According to one estimate, over the past five years the average taxpayer has coughed up $521.73 in subsidies towards fossil fuels and only $7.24 toward solar (chart, from

Last October, Bloomberg Businessweek explained

The hidden costs of obtaining permits and regulators’ approval to install rooftop panels is a big reason the U.S. lags behind Germany, which leads the world in rooftop installations, with more than 1 million. The price of installed rooftop solar in Germany has fallen to $2.24 per watt. In fact, on a sunny day in May, rooftop provided all of Germany’s power needs for two hours. “This is a country on latitude with Maine,” says Dennis Wilson, president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar-installer trade group. “Germany is showing us what’s possible—if we can just get our act together.”

That’s easier said than done. Unlike the U.S., Germany has a national solar policy, a quick, inexpensive permitting process, and a national mandate that utilities sign up rooftop installations under what’s known as a feed-in tariff—essentially a long-term contract whereby the utilities agree not just to allow the solar on their grids but also to buy the excess power from consumers.

By contrast, the U.S. has more than 18,000 jurisdictions at the state and local level that have a say in how rooftop solar is rolled out, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. What’s more, electricity is supplied by investor-owned utilities, mostly state-regulated monopolies, which supply power from centralized hubs to captured consumers. Profit is in part tied to growth based on an ever-expanding demand as populations increase.

Rooftop solar poses a threat to that model by turning consumers into producers, thereby sapping utility revenue streams. It also diminishes the need to build expensive new plants and transmission lines. The saturation limits being imposed by utilities in places with booming rooftop demand “are a bit like speed bumps,” says Mark Duda of RevoluSun, Hawaii’s largest residential rooftop installer. “They want to slow things down out of fear of being overrun by PV.”

To people such as Shibani Joshi, the federal government should resist investing more heavily in alternative energy.   Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising.  To some conservatives, American exceptionalism is a handy slogan serving as a proxy to wrapping oneself literally in the American flag.  But when it comes to development of renewable resources, the U.S.A., they fear, just can't make the grade.  But then, perhaps it's all due to the seasonally affected disorder afflicting residents of cloud-enshrouded New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and southern California.

More cynically, Digby remarks "Here in the U.S. we prefer to concentrate all our focus on fracking.  Its potentially lethal consequences give us that thrill we love.  That's what makes us so darned exceptional."

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