Attacks on wind and solar power by the coal and gas industries

The Energy Policy Institute illuminates some examples of fossil fuel groups and dark money groups resisting wind and solar power projects in the US. Note the misleading names often used:

Wind and solar power projects are under attack by coal and gas companies that fear competition from the booming renewable energy industry.

Below are examples from the past year of the fossil fuel industry’s war on renewable energy projects. 

Who killed the Wind Catcher project?

In July of 2018, AEP announced the cancellation of the Wind Catcher project, a multi-state effort to build what would have been the nation’s largest wind farm. The move came after the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) denied approval of the project, which had been previously approved by regulators in Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 

The Texas Industrial Energy Consumers (TIEC) was among the intervenors who opposed the Wind Catcher project before the PUCT. In its motion to intervene, TIEC said that its members involved in the case “include United States Steel.” 

A list of United States Steel subsidiaries and joint ventures found in the company’s most recent annual report includes Chisolm Coal LLC, Kanawha Coal LLC, Ontario Coal Company, and Stelco Coal Company.  

TIEC was represented in the Wind Catcher case by the law firm Thompson & Knight. 

“We are counselors to Texas Industrial Energy Consumers (TIEC), a trade association representing approximately 50 of the largest energy consumers in the state,” according to the firm’s website.

“Many TIEC companies are leaders in oil and gas production and refining, and in all forms of manufacturing, including high-tech, pulp and paper, and virtually every type of chemical manufacturing,” Thompson & Knight’s website also says.

Other TIEC members identified in a filing in a separate case last year included the Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, ExxonMobil Power & Gas Services, Kinder Morgan, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy. 

The PUCT’s order in the Wind Catcher case noted that while AEP projected nearly $1.5 billion in net benefits for consumers over the life of the project, opponents found the project would result in net costs. 

TIEC “argued the net cost could exceed $1 billion,” according to the PUCT order. 

“The bulk of the evidence in this proceeding casts doubt on the assumptions SWEPCO [an AEP subsidiary], who bears the burden of proof, used to determine that benefits to consumers are probable,” the PUCT said, and much of that “evidence” came from TIEC.

The PUCT’s order cited the arguments of TIEC more than those of any other intervenor in the case. It was preceded by a “Proposal for Decision” by an administrative law judge that mentioned “TIEC” 135 times. 

One of TIEC’s arguments was that AEP overestimated the value of Wind Catcher’s carbon emissions benefits by $550 million, and that those benefits should be negated due to President Trump’s efforts to roll back the Clean Power Plan and the unlikelihood of a carbon tax being imposed anytime soon. The PUC and administrative law judge both echoed TIEC’s arguments on this issue. 

Ironically, AEP opposes a carbon tax and the utility has also backed special interest groups, such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and Utility Air Regulatory Group, involved in fighting the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era EPA rule that sought to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants. 

The fossil fuel industry opposed Wind Catcher in other states too, including opposition in Oklahoma from the Windfall Coalition, backed by the gas producer Harold Hamm and other fossil fuel funded forces. 

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) fought the project in in ArkansasLouisiana and Oklahoma. The group is backed by the Koch brothers, and has also had financial ties to coal producers like Alpha Natural Resources and, in Oklahoma, Peabody Energy. AFP included the death of the Wind Catcher project on a list of its victories in 2018. 

Anti-Wind Catcher campaigns were also run by dark money groups that used names like “Protect Our Pocketbooks,” “Renewable Arkansas” and “Renewable Louisiana.” Protect Our Pocketbooks employed lobbyists in Arkansas and Louisiana known for their work for the gas industry. 

As previously reported by the Energy and Policy Institute, Americans for Affordable Energy, the group behind Renewable Arkansas and Renewable Louisiana, was incorporated in North Carolina by the fiancee of the director of research for the Hawthorn Group. The Hawthorn Group is known for its role in deceptive political campaigns backed by fossil fuel and utility interests.

Continue reading this article from the Energy Policy Institute.