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Whether it’s where to go for dinner, which movie to watch, or what present to buy someone for a birthday, the freedom to choose is built into the design of our retail economy. 

 Except when it comes to electricity.

Most states have laws in place that restrict who can generate and sell power. In regulated states, consumers have no choice but to purchase electricity from their local utility and little say over how that power is generated.

According to a new national survey released by the Conservative Energy Network, the ability to buy energy on an open market from a supplier other than the old monopoly utility — energy choice — is a priority for a majority of Americans.

Eighty-seven percent of voters said they support more competition in electricity markets that would allow people to choose where they buy their power. Among Republicans, support for giving consumers the freedom to purchase electricity and related services directly from entrepreneurs in the private sector is even higher: 91 percent.

It’s no surprise that conservatives who put a premium on individual freedom would also support the right to energy choice. What may come as a surprise, though, is the fact that support for renewable energy crosses party lines, with strong support for wind and solar power among even core Trump voters. That’s true even though the poll showed continued skepticism over climate change as a political issue among the same group.

Voters clearly like policies that help reduce the environmental impacts of their energy use without making energy more expensive.

This is the fourth-consecutive National Clean Energy Survey that CEN has conducted, the results of which have consistently shown that Republicans support renewable energy but reject the use of taxes or other centralized policies that limit the role of the consumer and the market.

The poll found that 70 percent of voters, regardless of political affiliation, support action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The same number said they preferred policies that empower markets and businesses to provide more clean energy compared to mandates or quotas. Only 26 percent of respondents said they preferred the government to set minimum requirements for renewable energy usage.

That should put to rest once and for all the notion that Republicans oppose clean energy. Instead, they reject bad ideas that increase energy costs, stifle innovation and grow the role of government.

Over 80 percent of respondents said they believe accelerating the growth of clean energy would bring economic development and good-paying jobs.

Americans of all political stripes want to be identified as leaders in the development and use of clean energy. However, the poll shows that voters are wary of big government programs and centralized solutions. According to the CEN poll, 72 percent of Republicans reject the idea of a new tax system that would reward low-carbon emitters and penalize high-carbon emitters. The number of Republicans opposed to a government tax jumps to 82 when specifically asked about a carbon tax.

At the same time, about 80 percent of respondents said they support increasing government investment in innovation and the development of technology, including advancing battery storage technology crucial to increasing the amount of renewable energy used in power generation.

The results confirm what we’ve long known. The government has a role to play in encouraging innovation in the research and development of advanced energy technologies, but when it comes to choosing which energy sources to deploy, consumers want to take the reins.

Thankfully, advances in digital technology are putting the power to understand and manage electricity use in the palms of consumers. As a result, consumers across the country are demanding a greater voice in their energy use, including the ability to source cleaner, renewable energy.

Without meaningful competition, though, consumers have little influence over the energy used to power their lives. It’s little wonder then that calls for energy choice are going up from Florida to Arizona.

Clean energy is an important issue for almost all voters in November, but just as important is the approach politicians take to encourage the transition to a renewable energy future. Market-oriented solutions that deliver energy that is more affordable, abundant and cleaner are policies that Republicans and Democrats alike can support.

Energy choice is a winner. 

This op-ed by Energy Choice Coalition Executive Director Robert Dillon originally ran on January 6 in Morning Consult.

Robert Dillon's picture

Thank Robert for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 12, 2020 6:23 pm GMT

So-called "energy choice", like renewable energy, is a loser - a way for middlemen to insert themselves between you and your utility and charge you more money.

Whoever buys into this shameless deception deserves to have their money taken. It does nothing for the environment, and ends up costing everyone else more too. 

Hint: beware of any promotion using caps-lock (shouting).


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 13, 2020 3:22 pm GMT

Do you think regulators are doing enough to protect the consumers? It seems like those are the two camps-- either the regulators will do it, or let's open up competition and let capitalism dictate. There are undoubtedly flaws with each approach, so I guess the question comes down to which is less flawed and more likely to benefit the end consumers. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 13, 2020 6:50 pm GMT

Big subject, Matt, but since 2005 state regulators have not been doing enough to protect consumers. Before that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission oversaw utilities, and quashed conflicts of interest before they could become a problem. Utilities were forbidden from making campaign donations and lobbying; now they're California's #1 source of financial influence in Sacramento. And with the governor appointing commissioners on the California Public Utilities Commission, it's little more than a rubber stamp for his policy / profit priorities.

Where there is no consumer choice, free-market competition does not exist. That's a fundamental tenet of economics, and when "Consumer Choice Aggregators" in California are selling mostly re-packaged electricity from major utilities with an added markup, the idea there's any competition in electricity at all is illusory.

Much as millennial revolutionaries like to think we're entering virgin territory with a supposed Energy Transition, we've been through it all before: electricity monopolies exploiting the public because they can, exactly as they did in the 1920s, using vertically-integrated holding companies and public influence. Bring back comprehensive federal regulation and the problem goes away.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 13, 2020 10:28 pm GMT

Utilities were forbidden from making campaign donations and lobbying; now they're California's #1 source of financial influence in Sacramento. 

This definitely isn't talked about enough-- if they're going to be regulated by the states, they should not be allowed to have weigh the scales with their giant thumbs of capital

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 14, 2020 4:23 pm GMT

Agree Matt, the question is how to effectively enforce federal antitrust statute within individual states. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is entrusted with regulating interstate commerce in energy; virtually all electricity qualifies as interstate commerce on an interstate grid. ERCOT in Texas is the only exception, and Texans have their own internal battles with limiting influence on regulators.

Unfortunately, FERC has neither the authority nor the resources to examine the books of interstate energy holding companies and ferret out conflicts of interest. PG&E, for example, has 267 subsidiaries doing business with each other across state lines. Of most concern is self-dealing: electricity subsidiaries buying gas from another subsidiary at an inflated price, then sending the bill to ratepayers.

If you read the Wikipedia entry for the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA) I think it will put a lot of pieces together - especially the last paragraph:

"The 2005 Act [PUHCA's replacement that handed regulatory authority to states] had many provisions that applied to just electric subsidiaries to the exclusion of natural gas subsidiaries of holding companies. On December 8, 2005, FERC recommended that Congress amend the 2005 Act to give FERC cost allocation authority over gas subsidiaries, and greater enforcement authority over gas subsidiaries, but Congress has not acted on FERC's request."

Mike Cassity's picture
Mike Cassity on Jan 14, 2020 6:15 pm GMT

Thanks for posting Robert.

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