The Tea Party and the Sunshine Boys - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Tea Party and the Sunshine Boys

It’s not easy giving sunshine a bad name — especially in the Northeast after this winter. But the solar energy industry, its lobbyists, and its leftist enablers in the environmental movement have come close to accomplishing this. 

Solyndra, and all those little Solyndras across the country, have demonstrated to alert observers how a generator of small amounts of pricy and unreliable energy can turn into a honey-pot for the well connected. Using global warming (aka climate change) and fossil fuels as the bug-bears, solarists, and those whooping up equally expensive and unproductive “renewable” energy sources, have managed to drain billions from various government treasuries while producing very little in the way of kilowatt hours.

It’s not surprising that the usual leftie suspects — Greenpeace, the UN, the Sierra Club and other upscale Earth-worship cults — are beavering away on this fraud. It’s what these disturbers of the peace do. It is a bit surprising, and a little disturbing, to see some conservatives getting in on the act. A constitutional amendment initiative being whooped up in Florida now would oblige the state to promote solar energy and allow home and business owners to generate and sell solar power. This movement is attracting some Tea Party support, though not as much as those promoting the initiative claim if the tea-party members I’ve talked to are typical.

Tampa advertising and marketing executive Tory Perfetti is chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, Inc., the group pushing the initiative. He describes himself as a lifetime conservative and Republican. He told me on the phone last week that his group’s amendment only seeks to open solar energy to the free market, where it will succeed or fail. This isn’t about the environmental movement or about replacing fossil fuels, he says. This claim would be more reassuring if almost all of the money financing this campaign didn’t come from traditional environmental groups hostile to the free market and to fossil fuels. The claim would be more credible if solar didn’t have such a bad record every time it has been allowed to compete.

Stripped of subsidies, the cost of generating electricity is a multiple of the cost of generating electricity from fossil fuels. The question of whether individuals or businesses should be allowed to generate and sell small amounts of solar power is debatable. This might add a trifling amount of electric power to the state’s energy mix. What’s not debatable is that the amendment’s language could easily be used to justify even more wasteful solar subsidies.

Prosecution exhibit one is the first sentence of the “Purpose and Intent” of the amendment: “It shall be the policy of the state to encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.”

That’s clear as spring water. I can hear the grant proposals being ground out now.

Perfetti says my alarm is uncalled for. He claims the second sentence of “Purpose” immunizes Florida taxpayers against entrepreneurial grant-seekers. It reads: “The section is intended to accomplish this purpose by limiting and preventing regulatory and economic barriers that discourage the supply of electricity generated from solar energy sources to customers who consume the electricity at the same or a contiguous property as the site of the solar electricity production.” 

If Perfetti believes that sentence two really protects Floridians from costly mischief caused by sentence one, then all I can say is he has never met a lawyer or a politician. It’s true, as Perfetti claims, that the amendment “does not require any subsidies or raise any taxes.” But it doesn’t prohibit them either. And any sensible reading of the “policy of the state” language would conclude that they would make the environment for subsidies more friendly. After all, the progressive politician’s favorite way of promoting something is to spend a bunch of money on it, usually with his friends.

And make no mistake, most of the friends of this amendment are not friends of the free market. Perfetti’s group has generated support from something called the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida (as the name implies, a Libertarian-leaning Republican group), the Libertarian Party of Florida, and a business group, the Florida Retail Federation. But supporters also include the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Physicians for Social (leftist) Responsibility, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. This last group, an aged in the barrel left-enviro group, is the largest financial supporter of the ballot initiative.

Asked if a free-market guy like himself was comfortable with all these anti-market groups, Perfetti said he was. “I’m comfortable with these other members,” Perfetti said. “This is a multi-partisan effort.” Perfetti’s faith in his anti-market pals is charming, if not admirable.

Perfetti has an opportunity to increase his conservative support Tuesday night when he makes his pitch before a Tampa Tea-Party group called Tampa 9-12. He has a hill to climb.

Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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