Faced with Plummeting Price of Clean Energy, Fossil Fuel Interests Double Down on Discredited Arguments

This week, Lazard issued its 2015 report on the “levelized cost of energy” for various power generation alternatives. The bottom line conclusion, that “wind and solar technologies are beating conventional fuels – coal, gas and nuclear – on costs of production,” obviously was great news for clean energy and terrible news for fossil fuels. That’s especially true given that the cost trend for clean energy continues downward, as far into the future as the eye can see, meaning that fossil fuels’ days are numbered, simply on economic grounds alone. That, of course, doesn’t even account for the imperative to slash carbon pollution, as well as to save scarce water resources, both of which strongly favor clean energy over fossil fuels.

Given all that, combined with potential legal jeopardy for fossil fuel companies and the scaling back of public financing for coal-fired power plants, it’s no wonder that the fossil fuel industry is feeling extremely jittery these days. It also helps explain a recent spate of less-than-truthful op-eds by the fossil fuel industry’s well-paid defenders. Lacking any serious facts or logical arguments to work with, the editorial writers instead falsely attack the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, make wild-eyed claims about clean energy, and tout the benefits of the “free market” while conveniently avoiding any mention of the fact that the fossil fuel industry, the one they are paid good money to represent, continues to receive enormous amounts of taxpayer-funded corporate welfare.

One recent example of these op-eds is a colum by Thomas J. Pyle of the Koch-brothers-funded “American Energy Alliance.”  It’s important to note that Pyle has a long history of falsely attacking wind power and other forms of clean energy. He may not be fact-based, but give Pyle credit for consistency, as he’s been making the same, false arguments for years. Thus, supposedly, clean energy requires massive amounts of “corporate welfare” to compete with fossil fuels; that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy will raise peoples’ power bills, kill jobs, etc, etc. In fact, far from wind energy not being able to “survive without subsidies,” as Pyle absurdly claims, the Lazard study cited above now has wind and solar “beating convention fuels…on costs of production.” Don’t believe Lazard? You might want to check out Wind Power Now Cheaper Than Natural Gas for Xcel, CEO Says; Wind now competes with fossil fuels. Solar almost does.; Solar and Wind Energy Start to Win on Price vs. Conventional Fuels; Price of US Wind Power at ‘All-Time Low’ of 2.5 Cents per Kilowatt-Hour; Utility-scale solar in the US now averages 5 cents per kilowatt-hour; etc. And that doesn’t even count the massive advantages clean energy has over fossil fuels in terms of pollution, health impacts and water usage. In short, fossil fuels lose on all counts, even as they remain heavily subsidized, which makes Pyle’s argument laughably off base.

One more example of the fossil fuel industry trying desperately to win an unwinnable argument is the recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard. The core argument here is that the “market” can deal with global warming and other environmental problems, no need for government policy. Of course, if it were true that fossil fuel industry flacks like Mr. Gerard were truly committed to letting “market forces” work, presumably they’d be volunteering to give up the $20.5 billion per year in government subsidies they receive in the U.S. alone. Also worth noting is Mr. Gerard’s erroneous implication that increased clean energy penetration will harm economic growth. To the contrary, given that renewable energy increasingly is the cheapest energy option, as well as the cleanest, it’s actually fossil fuels that threaten economic growth, as we’ve seen repeatedly in the aftermath of past oil price spikes, disruptions, and simply business-as-usual when it comes to the coal industry.

The bottom line is that the fossil fuel industry simply doesn’t have any serious arguments at this point, which is why they cling so tightly both to their government subsidies and also to the discredited falsehoods they’ve been trotting out for years. Meanwhile, renewable energy just keeps growing, falling in price, bringing clean power and sustainable economic growth to hundreds of millions around the world — all with far less government support than fossil fuels receive. Keep that in mind the next time you read an op-ed by Thomas Pyle, Jack Gerard, or one of the many other fossil fuel industry flacks out there.


ScalingGreen is a project of the renewable energy public relations firm Tigercomm.