Solar screw-up: Tea Partiers must stay on course
by Matt Towery
July 12, 2013 09:40 PM | 19975 views | 11 11 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Matt Towery<br>Columnist
Matt Towery
When it first came to life, the tea party movement burst on the scene with energy and pure direction that seared many a mind with images of huge crowds waving the red, white and blue. It was all about taxes, and curtailing government spending, and liberty.

And it worked. The crowds at tea party movement protests grew month-by-month in 2009 and became larger in 2010. The GOP establishment slowly started to get the message that it was time to put the foot down on the ways of Washington and start speaking up for the conservative movement.

But the “tea party” has always been more a state of mind than an organized movement. And the movement’s impact in the 2012 presidential election came into question when Mitt Romney, who had positions on most issues that were more conservative than those of John McCain in 2008, underperformed McCain in votes from key GOP-leaning demographics.

There are hundreds of organizations around the nation bearing the tea party name. And if their overall influence among voters was waning earlier this year, the revelation of IRS targeting against organizations bearing names that even hinted of tea party leanings gave the movement as a whole a chance for rejuvenation.

That said, there is emerging a risk that the movement could start to muddle its message and fumble back the political football gift it received when the IRS actions hit the news.

To stick with the football analogy for a moment, I can almost hear the late “Monday Night Football” announcer Howard Cosell’s voice as he describes this moment in time for those who are part of the tea party movement. “But suddenly the ball comes loose from the running back’s arms, and the opposing team recaptures what it had just lost ... the ball and momentum in the game ... and on the sidelines team members could be found fighting amongst themselves.”

Oh, yes, that could be where this great movement is headed. Consider just one example in the heartland of the tea party, Republican-controlled Georgia.

There are numerous organizations that lay claim to the tea party moniker in this state. And, to their credit, each has seemed to operate effectively in shaping Georgia’s GOP to the very conservative edge of conservative.

But in the last few months, the groups have started warring. Not over taxes, or the federal debt, or immigration. Their war is over, of all things, solar energy.

That’s right, the various tea party “leaders” have decided to dominate the news talking not about the IRS or PRISM, but solar energy. This is the very same well-intended but obscure effort that brought about the entire Solyndra debacle that so embarrassed the Obama administration.

Polling shows that Georgia Republicans and conservatives associate solar energy with the “liberal political philosophy” more than almost any other specific source of electrical power. They are much more in support of even nuclear power, viewing it as more associated with the conservative spectrum.

In most conservative states, solar is still associated more with the politics of Bobby Kennedy Jr. than of the GOP or tea party movement — again a well-intended man, but one who could not win a statewide race in conservative Georgia even if he paid every voter.

Since the days of Jimmy Carter’s forward thinking but much ridiculed installation of solar panels in the White House (they were ultimately removed for failure to work), to the Solyndra debacle, Republicans and conservatives have viewed solar and wind as great concepts, but unworkable and somehow more a part of the left’s agenda than the right’s. They may be way off, but that’s their view.

Now comes the danger for the tea party. Various tea party entities in Georgia have chosen to do battle over the effort to impose a greater solar-based energy quotient into the state’s regulated energy provider. In recent days they have blasted one another. One tea party organization has pushed the concept as a money-saver, while two others have dismissed it as potentially costly and speculative. Thus the purpose and image become blurred for the public. They all have the best of intentions, but the least compelling of issues.

These patriots are missing the point. Solar energy may be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But those who first took up banners and waved flags in favor of less government, reducing the debt and cutting taxes have no clue as to how or why solar energy has anything to do with their effort.

This type of “getting off course” has occurred in other states, as well. With privacy and liberty under attack and money still being printed and spent by the government with reckless abandon, the tea party movement cannot afford to mix messages, even if the message seems cool or visionary to some. If they do, they will be dancing between the political raindrops, trying to catch a ray of elusive electoral sun, and their marchers and banner carriers will congregate elsewhere.

Matt Towery heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
July 14, 2013
The idea that there be a mandated quotient of anything is preposterous. Any tea party group that is supporting government mandates of anything is not a tea party group.

Far from being "off course", the tea party correctly points out thousands of ways that government unnecessarily interferes in the market; this is just one example. They are not getting off tangent.
John Bailo
July 14, 2013
Yes, it seems common now for people to equal Conservative with Curmudgeon.

It's one thing to want to stick with the rule of law and not stray to far from the Constitution (which encouraged the Progress of Science and Useful Arts), and another to use it as a means of retaining market share under guise of some fantasy version of 1776:The Musical.
prose and thorn
July 14, 2013
Mr. Towery -

I was at the PSC meeting, Thursday, and I spoke with a representative of the Tea Party Patriots, the group that sided with those pushing for more solar in Georgia.

He made it clear that his group was supporting the effort, not to be "cool or visionary," (he actually said electricity on demand is a quality of life issue, no matter where it comes from) but they're doing it because they believe it creates a free market, better for competition. Rather than let the Georgia Power monopoly control the entire fossil-fuel plant supply chain, there would be a bidding process for the infrastructure that would add 525 megawatts of solar power for the state, over the next 20 years.

Those fighting the additional solar were led by fossil-fuel special interests. Go figure.
July 14, 2013
It's a shame the Tea Party used that name.

The original Boston Tea Party was revolutionary.

The modern Tea Party members are the complete opposite... They're the most avid pro-USA lackeys. They're the equivalent of 1776 Loyalists.
Mr. Green
July 14, 2013
Regardless of who has the banner, we need control over Governmnent spending.

I love Solar and Wind. But, they ARE speculative, at this point. I have researched heavily into getting a Solar assist for my house. There is no way that it is cost effective, unless the kw/hour doubles or triples in the next few years, while the cost of Solar installation stays flat.
Adam Smith
July 14, 2013
It's a shame that government subsidies and regulations are hiding the true costs of black, green and nuclear energy. All energy forms should pay fairly for their environmental damage. Then let consumers and the free market determine the winner. Reduce subsidies, reduce taxes, reduce regulations and tax pollution. Let the free market work properly.
July 14, 2013
1 KW per square meter at 100% efficiency. Solar panels are in the 10-15% range when the sun shines. Do the math.
July 14, 2013
"Since the days of Jimmy Carter’s forward thinking but much ridiculed installation of solar panels in the White House (they were ultimately removed for failure to work)" ----- WRONG WRONG WRONG. They were moved to Unity College in Maine and are STILL WORKING! They were removed during a Reagan remodeling, and because Reagan certainly did not believe in solar energy.

July 14, 2013
Solar PV is a good concept, but those supporting it as an embodiment of conservative values (independence, autonomy), dont have a full understanding of how the electrical grid works and how interconnected solar pv requires costly measures from the grid operator to maintain power quality. The idea that the grid operator should absorb the cost to balance out the variability of solar pv systems and maintain power quality is not supported by any rational exonomic reasoning, and completely remote to tea-party ideals.

Furthermore, the nature of solar PV (high capital cost, no fuel cost) is that it produces energy at the whim of the weather and because it is fuel free this energy takes precedence over that produced by other sources. This can be good regarding emissions..... Until you have a small amount of solar PV and wind selling their energy in precedence over a much larger nuclear plant and causing it to shutdown because of economic viability. In such a case solar PV and wind ironically increase emissions as nuclear power plant capacity is vastly greater than solar or wind in most locales.

The Tea-Party should be fighting for a fair interconnection fee for solar PV, not a free ride on the backs of grid operators.
July 14, 2013
Republicans are so stupid. It's about "conserving". Don't you people consider your "conservatives". This is why you lose elections; you have no idea what you stand for...
July 14, 2013
The sad thing is that people still think the government prints our money. The reality is that a privately owned bank called the Federal Reserve is doing that. The government (that's us, you and me, the tax payers) are liable for the interest. Debt is built into the system.
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