Friday, October 24, 2008

Looking Down Ballot - Proposition C - Renewable Energy

Proposition C is not only a forward-thinking, inexpensive step in the right direction for Missouri, it is also a wonderful Rorschach ink blot test to uncover fundamental attitudes about the intersection of Government and the Free Market. Absolutists see Proposition C as a scary monster out to devour the Free Market, while realists see it as something positive and helpful.

Here is the language of the measure (and, while I'm at it, here is the link to the Kansas City sample ballot):
Shall Missouri law be amended to require investor-owned electric utilities to generate or purchase electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydropower with the renewable energy sources equaling at least 2% of retail sales by 2011 increasing incrementally to at least 15% by 2021, including at least 2% from solar energy; and restricting to no more than 1% any rate increase to consumers for this renewable energy?

The estimated direct cost to state governmental entities is $395,183. It is estimated there are no direct costs or savings to local governmental entities. However, indirect costs may be incurred by state and local governmental entities if the proposal results in increased electricity retail rates.
The question that voters ought to be pondering is whether we are "in" or "out" on breaking our dependence on fossil fuels. I believe now is the time to move forward and seize for Missouri some of the economic, ecological and societal benefits of renewable energy.

The arguments against helping Missouri take a leadership position in the new economy is that it represents an expensive and unjustified intrusion on the Free Market. If alternative energy is a viable option, they argue, the market will recognize and exploit that fact, and utility companies will move toward renewable energy on their own.

Those arguments, based on the fundamental immorality of Libertarianism, ignore the reality of the marketplace in the 21st Century. While it is nice to sit back and dream of the day when enlightened utility companies will embrace new technology, there are two main reasons they never will, and why we need Proposition C to help our state economy.

First, the marketplace is fundamentally conservative, and requires encouragement to adjust its approach on energy. The utility industry is simply not a nimble industry, and never will become one without encouragement. Billions of dollars in "sunk costs" have bound the industry to centralized production and fossil fuels. If I owned a fantastically expensive power plant that burned coal, I, too, would resent a movement toward wind energy, which could reduce the relative advantage I have in the marketplace for electricity. Just as wise saddlemakers and livery stables opposed governmental involvement in paving roads for those unproven cars, utility owners are fighting a rearguard battle against a shift toward renewable energies. Their self-interest does not reflect what is best for Missouri.

Second, Missourians are justified in this enhancement of the free market because the utility industry has so many hidden societal costs. In ways we never really stop to consider, we have been subsidizing fossil-based utilities since their birth. When a coal plant emits "acceptable levels" of pollution, Missourians are subsidizing the profits of the owner by absorbing that pollution. Similarly, when the Missouri National Guard sends troops to Iraq, we are subsidizing our dependence on fossil fuels. (I won't argue whether the Iraq War is a war for oil, but I will insist that our involvement in the Middle East is largely motivated by the region's petroleum.) On the positive side, we demand that our utilities provide us with energy, even after an ice storm, when it might be more economically efficient to wait until spring to repair the lines. The "free market" is a myth in the heavily-regulated and high-social-cost realm of power generation.

Proposition C represents an opportunity for Missouri, and one we should support enthusiastically. In demanding a move toward renewable energy, Missourians will be getting out in front of and supporting the next wave of industrial change. We will be helping the market work for us instead of against us by encouraging innovation and new thinking. If the beneficent boards of our utility companies really had Missouri's interest at heart instead of their own, we would have moved this way generations ago. They, of course, do not have our best interest at heart, so this Proposition C will serve to make our voices heard.

Vote for Proposition C so that Missouri can be at the front of the next industrial revolution.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

2% by 2011? 15% by 2021?

Is that suppose to be a joke?

Why bother at all. An Incovenient Truth of the state of apathy and/or denial about our planet's future for all to approve in proposition C.

10/24/2008 9:24 AM  
Blogger DanaDoesDesign said...

I'm glad you are doing posts on the different MO propositions. You're very good at distilling what matters out of all the jargon. For the first time in the 10 years I have been old enough to vote, I feel prepared moving toward election day, which is partially thanks to you. Keep up the good work.

10/24/2008 9:45 AM  
Anonymous Lance Weber said...

Why no links to the opponents of Prop C? Who are "they"?

I think Prop C will pass. To the average voter (including me), it sounds good so why not? Sec'y of State Robin Carnahan drafted ballot language for a law that would use the force of government to benefit the business of another Carnahan. Leaving aside the issue of governmental interference in the (not so free) market, Prop C bears an appearance of impropriety that has not been examined.

That is a foul.

Echoing a previous comment hereon, I respectfully submit that you need to step up your game with respect to your analysis of libertarianism.

As a representative of the Libertarian Party, I feel a duty to reply to your 2007 post but it would take too long. Please take the time to read this, this, this, this and this.

Each of us has a personal, individual responsibility to help those less fortunate. Libertarians think that it is "immoral" to delegate that duty to a majoritarian entity that funds itself with forceful taxation of an unwilling minority. Non-consensual taking is theft. The ultimate minority is an individual. If I don't want to pay for one of our social programs, like "public art" (I appreciate art!), why should your governmental agent be allowed to hold a gun to my head and make me do so?

10/25/2008 1:28 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

The opponents of Prop C are just front groups for the utilities. If you have a link you would like for me to post, I'll be happy to do so.

Robin Carnahan did not draft the Proposition, and it's not her fault that the Proposition will benefit a sibling. Indeed, isn't that the whole point, that a whole lot of Missourians will benefit? Entrepreneurs like Tom Carnahan will benefit, as will hundreds of others and that's why I like the proposition.

Lance, do you honestly believe that the Secretary of State can only put measures on the ballot that will do harm to Missourians who happen to be in her family?

10/25/2008 9:46 AM  
Anonymous Lance Weber said...

The opponents of Prop C are just front groups for the utilities. If you have a link you would like for me to post, I'll be happy to do so.

I don't want you to post any particular link except the one(s) that you relied upon to form your opinion. What I meant was: Show Me. CNN said Prop C has "no organized opposition" and that 2 of the 3 affected utilities are neutral while the 3rd (KCPL) supports Prop C. They are devious indeed if they don't publicly oppose it but have set up "front groups" to do so on their behalf. Is that actually the case?

Robin Carnahan did not draft the Proposition,

She drafted the ballot language. Is it impartial?

and it's not her fault that the Proposition will benefit a sibling.

Perhaps it is just a happy coincidence, but when there is an appearance of impropriety heightened scrutiny is prudent.

Lance, do you honestly believe that the Secretary of State can only put measures on the ballot that will do harm to Missourians who happen to be in her family?

Of course not, but when one of Missouri's Royal families comes out of a huddle with a law like Prop C on a silver platter we would be foolish not to take a closer look. But like I said, Prop C will pass.

Shallow swipes at libertarianism in the course of your defense of "this enhancement of the free market" are unfounded. I'd love to see the basis for your perception that the arguments against Prop C are based on libertarian thought. I have to conclude that you're just making that up. Show me.

p.s. I love your comment that regulation of pollution operates as a boon to polluters. Right on the money.

10/26/2008 12:19 AM  

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