One of the funniest comic strips courtesy of my favorite everyday person, Ziggy, is our hero reviewing the fancy communications material produced by his company for employees. In true Ziggy deadpan fashion, he notes, “Uh oh. The better the communication material, the worse the message.” This simple observation speaks to the heart of fancy public relations messaging that is often masked as fact with slick images and spokespeople.
I mention this as the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (which is more aptly named Americans for Our Prosperity) are funding commercials to dissuade North Carolina General Assembly from letting an increasing renewable energy requirement on Duke Energy continue. This phase-in requirement is one of the reasons North Carolina is fourth in the country in solar energy. The other key reason of a tax credit is set to expire this year, which is also a very poor move.
Let me summarize this in base terms. The fossil fuel industry, who has benefitted from government support for years, now is wanting an even playing field in North Carolina as the price of renewable energy falls and it has shown to be a success for attracting business and creating jobs. So, we will get to see slick commercials to tell us how renewable energy is more expensive for poor people and it is unfair to the fossil fuel industry for the government to play favorites (unless the fossil fuel industry is favored).
I have seen the studies presented that show the cost of renewable energy is higher than burning coal or natural gas. First, that equation focuses on production costs and the differential is narrowing and is expected to be equal at the end of 2018. Second, those comparisons do not factor in the added health cost, environmental degradation cost, loss of evaporated water to create steam from burnt fossil fuel, long term disposal costs of coal ash, and litigation costs to handle problems like Duke faced with the coal ash spill. These costs disproportionately affect the poor who tend to live nearer these areas. That is consistent with the Pope’s message.
The commercials will be slick and emphatically sincere as the pro-fracking commercials have been with the young actress playing the earnest mother who does not realize she is being paid to embellish the truth and outright lie. Fracking is perfectly safe she says as she whispers so as not to wake the children. No, it has been proven to be not safe and it will be proven to be worse than currently believed in the future. And, coal is definitely not safe no matter how you get it, heat it or store its ashes.
So, the nicer the commercial should be a larger red flag. Our state, country and planet need us to move faster down the path of renewable energy. Don’t let slick commercials convince you otherwise.