Port: Free Market Arguments Against Government-Granted Carbon Catch Loans Are False



He is a longtime Republican and has served in the administrations of former governors. Ed Schafer and John Hooven. He has also held various leadership positions in the North Dakota Republican Party.

He lobbies for wind energy these days. Enel Green Power is listed as his client in the current political cycle.… He is also a “political advisor” North Dakotia for Integrated Energy Solutions, a wind energy group for astroturfing.

Harms is a good helper for Big Wind. He can speak the language of the North Dakota Republicans.

When we talked over the past year or so about North Dakota’s efforts to protect the coal industry, including government loans to the Tundra Project, an intriguing carbon capture initiative, I listened carefully to his arguments.

Because I like Bob.

I respect him.

His position on this issue can be summed up in one question: “Why do Republicans, usually supporters of limited government and free markets, push government-backed loans to protect the coal industry?”

This is not an unfair question, although the rebuttal is, “Why is a Republican working in wind power suddenly concerned about government interference in energy markets?”

This intervention in the development of wind energy is massive, far beyond anything that has been done for coal in North Dakota. The federal wind power tax credit is a source of money. Harms, while talking over coffee and scrambled eggs at Charlie’s Main Street in Minot, guaranteed me that it would expire two years ago.

Since then, it has been renewed twice, as I have often reminded him that costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually.

The wind industry claims they don’t need this subsidy, but they keep renewing it, which makes me wonder if it’s even possible for this industry to survive without taxpayer support.

In addition to this egregious subsidy, we also have various state subsidies and regulations forcing utilities to ditch baseload electricity and switch to sources such as wind and sun.

The arguments for a free market in energy are great rhetoric and especially attractive to conservatives, but we don’t have a free market for energy.

What we have is a multitude of underdogs working for an industry that has experienced a tidal wave of political favoritism over the past couple of decades, using free market rhetoric as a cover.

This brings me to recent article by Adam Willis citation status Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, and founder of the North Dakota Watchdog Network Dustin Gavrilow, both ostensibly conservatives using Harms’ tactics to oppose government loans for carbon capture.

“The government is willing to put taxpayers at risk,” Becker told Willis.

Gavrilow makes similar noises about the supposedly overly cozy relationship between the coal industry and state legislators.

If Harms, Becker, and Gavrilow were arguing in a vacuum, they might be right, but they are not.

Our government is actively promoting renewable energy sources. The base capacity of coal-fired power plants is closed not by the market economy, but by political forces. We’ve reached the point where utility bills are rising as well as our electrical grid is vulnerable.

The federal and state governments have shown no sign that they are willing to drop the subsidies and regulations that created this situation.

As a result, North Dakota politicians find themselves in an unenviable position when they take rather unusual measures on behalf of the coal industry, including loans secured by taxpayers for the needs of the coal industry. Tundra Project

There is a risk, yes, but what is the alternative if we do nothing?

Our state will lose thousands of jobs.

Entire communities in central North Dakota will wither and die.

Our region will lose more reliable base load capacity at a time when power outages are becoming common.

Arguments about free markets in this context, whether motivated by ideological myopia or the monetary interests of industries competing with coal, make no sense.

If coal-fired power plants are shutting down because we have discovered a way to produce electrons in the same cheap and reliable way, then so be it. This is progress. But in the current state of affairs, we are shutting down coal power plants, and some are trying to do research in areas such as carbon capture that could keep coal energy viable in the future, because of politics at best, and clan capitalism at worst.

It’s okay for idlers and ideological pedants to rant about “free markets,” whatever their motives, but everyone else has to live here in the real world.

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a commentator for Forum Communications. Contact him on Twitter at @robport or email at rport@forumcomm.com


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