Noon: Is Steyer helping the planet or himself?
Any review of green energy and its politics and policies has to include the name of wealthy liberal Tom Steyer. Having made his billions from his tenure atop Farallon Capital Management—much of it from coal projects around the world—Steyer apparently had an environmental epiphany and now wants to atone for his past sins by trying to save the planet from manmade climate change.
He is using his wallet to try to elect candidates who will promote policies and energy plans that agree with him. And that plan is “green.” As I’ve previously reported, he spent nearly $75 million in the 2014 midterms and intends to top that for the 2016 election cycle.
Along with researcher Christine Lakatos, I’ve repeatedly addressed Steyer’s involvement through our work on President Obama’s Green-Energy Crony-Corruption Scandal. Anytime there is a pot of government money available for green energy, as Lakatos found, Steyer’s name seems to be attached to it.
Steyer claims to have “no self-interest” in his political activism. The Los Angeles Times quotes him as saying: “We’re doing something we think is good for everyone.”
While he may say what he is doing is good for everyone, the policies he’s pushing are good for him — not for “everyone." In California, where he has been a generous supporter of green energy policies, he helped pass Senate Bill 350 that calls for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. California’s current mandate is 33 percent by 2020 — which California’s three investor-owned utilities are, reportedly, “already well on their way to meeting.” It is no surprise that California already has some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Analysis released last week found that states with policies supporting green energy have much higher power prices. In October, Steyer spent six figures for an ad campaign calling for the next president to adopt a national energy policy similar to California’s: “50 percent clean energy mix in the U.S. by 2030” — which will raise everyone’s rates.
With Steyer’s various green-energy investments, these rate-increasing plans are good for him but bad for everyone else — especially those who can least afford it. And it is the less affluent he’s targeting with predatory loans for solar panels through Kilowatt Financial, LLC, or KWF — a company that listed him as “manager” on corporate documents. KWF recently merged with Clean Power Finance and became “Spruce.” The financing structure used, according to the Wall Street Journal, allows “homeowners to get solar systems at no upfront cost and then to pay monthly for the use of the power generated.” The Journal points out that the KWF financing can be offered to “people who wouldn’t be approved otherwise.”
In this model, the homeowners don’t actually own the solar systems — which means KWF receives the benefit of the federal tax incentives, such as the 30 percent federal “Investment Tax Credit,” designed to benefit the owner of the solar system.
It is practices like this that have drawn congressional ire from both sides of the aisle. Several congressional Democrats sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that warned about the similarities between the solar industry and what led to the subprime mortgage crisis. Similarly, Republicans sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that noted pressure from Wall Street is reportedly leading companies that use “potentially deceptive sales tactics”—which doesn’t sound like it is something that is “good for everyone.”
While Steyer claims he wants to give everyone a “fair shake,” his pet policies increase costs for everyone, and offer a hand-shake for Wall Street. Steyer and his billionaire buddies win, “everyone” else loses.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy. She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column.