Money, Influence, and Energy

July 3, 2012

By Matt Palmer

A few weeks ago I wrote about a story that appeared in the Guardian and the Huffington Post about an alleged conspiracy by oil companies funding anti-wind campaigns. The story seemed odd to me because there was no logical explanation as to why oil companies would spend money trying to discredit an energy source that they do not even compete against. Oil is not burned for electricity. Secondly, most oil companies are publicly traded, so if money is going to nefarious anti-wind campaigns it would be easy to trace.

There is another piece to the story though, and an important one: many oil companies, and other fossil fuel producers are investing heavily into wind and other alternatives, and receiving huge subsidies.

I recently found this interesting rebuttal to the Guardian/Huffington Post piece by energy author Robert Bryce, “The Wind Lobby is Powered by Fossil Fuels.” In the article, Mr Bryce details the many fossil fuel producers who are not only receiving big subsidies for their wind initiatives, but many are current or past members of the board of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Interesting way to commit a conspiracy and bring the wind industry down, damaging their own interests and financial benefits in the process. As Mr Bryce points out:

Furthermore, the American Wind Energy Association’s spokesmen and their many boosters in the blogosphere regularly deride anyone who criticizes industrial wind projects as somehow being in the thrall of the fossil fuel sector. But their rhetoric doesn’t match reality. The hard truth is this: AWEA represents the fossil fuel industry.

AWEA’s biggest member companies may be promoting wind energy — and in the process they are reaping lucrative subsidies — but they are also among the world’s biggest users and/or producers of fossil fuels. Many of those very same fossil-fuel companies have garnered billions of dollars in tax-free cash grants and/or loan guarantees from the US government to deploy “clean” energy. An analysis of some 4,300 projects that won grants from the Treasury Department under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the federal stimulus bill) shows that $3.25 billion in grants went to just eight companies, all of which are either past or current board members of AWEA.

Are there members of the fossil fuel industry that have a hate on for wind and other alternatives, and are using money and influence to stop it? Quite possibly. That is a good story for some intrepid reporter or blogger to follow. But let us not miss an important point here.

As we look to the future of energy, we need a myriad of solutions, even as reserves of global oil and natural gas reserves are experiencing a resurgence. Cleaner, more sustainable energy production, distribution, and consumption is the right, and necessary thing to do.

Building alternative energy systems like wind and solar on a global scale takes money. Fossil fuel companies have the deep pockets to make the investments. Demonizing them is counterproductive.

Money can taint anything. Money buys influence. Yet, we all need money to operate, to do things that create meaning. So while recent history has shown, yet again, that money can corrupt actions and issues, it doesn’t always. There are many examples of companies and individuals that operate using great moral and ethical practices.

The cynics will point out that oil companies only invest in wind to make a buck. Yes, they do. They are businesses, and that is their mandate. But the people who run and work in these companies are like you and me, they might be our neighbours, friends and family. They are good people, like the good people working for environmental groups, and government. I would wager that very few people wake up in the morning with the objective of destroying the environment, or screwing someone over. Yet, we could all find moments in our lives when our actions do not match our beliefs or values. We humans are prone to losing our way from time to time.

One of the interesting things about this story of oil companies funding anti-wind: there was no real journalism at work. Because if the writers had done some basic research like Robert Bryce did, the story never would have been printed. But, the story made a great headline, and it is the type of story that gets a lot of people emotional and ramped up against the evil oil companies and the terrorist environmental groups.

Constant critical thinking. What is your energy?


About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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3 Responses to Money, Influence, and Energy

  1. Joe Thornton says:

    All one has to do is follow the logic trail back several years. Most of the Oilcos changed their names back in the 70’s from “Oil” whatever to either a standalone name that didn’t represent just oil or gas, but represented energy as being generic. Being public companies their mandate is to make money from whatever subsidies, or exploiting whatever types of energy that they can. Nothing nefarious about any of that

  2. Mike Saunders says:

    Mr. Thornton, I might agree that there is nothing nefarious but a constant refrain down here is that we must stop the big tax breaks we give oil companies. If we stop paying them to install and run expensive windmills so we can buy expensive electricity from them, who will provide this service? Hopefully not Solyndra, or another money pit. More importantly, now that we have another completely un-funded entitlement to pay for (Thank you Chief Justice Roberts), can we really afford these subsidies anymore? I would suggest not, and the experience of Spain in the last few years would lead one to believe the path of subsidized “Green Energy” is really just the road to ruin. If wind and solar energy are genuinely necessary components of the energy supply chain, by now they should also be economic. They have been proven to be uneconomic, in Spain and in Denmark, so I suggest they are not a necessary component, and do not deserve subsidies.

  3. Joe Thornton says:

    Unfortunately the only easily available oil is/was in Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern countries, in fact for years it was jokingly referred to as “Black and Decker drilling”. Pretty much all other oil resources came with some kind of subsidy, whether it was a preferred royalty rate or direct tax incentives to entice investors to the table. Certainly that has been the case for exploration for both oil and gas in Canada, to say nothing of the breaks given to the Oil Sands companies.

    One can list off pretty much any industry at some point in time whether it is in the USA or Canada where subsidies were provided. The Steel industry for the longest time. Agriculture in North America has never gotten off the dole. The auto industry has been bailed out numerous times. In the USA investment money’s were given massive tax breaks, in many cases interest could be written off. Those my friend are ALL SUBSIDIES. Any time a tax credit, or lowered tax base or royalty break is provided to some industry to help it either survive or get kickstarted, its a damn subsidy.

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