The Return of Reactionary Liberalism – May 2009

May 2009

By John McClaughry

Some years ago the columnist Charles Krauthammer penned a column on the evocatively-labeled “reactionary liberalism”.

The old and true liberalism identified a social good – welfare, nutrition. housing assistance, health care for the aged, etc. It boldly declared that no civilized society could neglect such essential ingredients of social justice.

When old and true liberalism gained a legislative majority, it enacted government programs to meet those perceived needs – and it unashamedly raised taxes on the better-off to pay their costs.

“Reactionary liberalism” recognizes the same needs, but its practitioners lack the political courage to raise the taxes to pay the bills, and face the wrath of the taxpayers.

So reactionary liberalism contrives to use the power of government to force third parties to shoulder the costs of its liberal agenda. Those third parties – usually private businesses – are then forced to raise their prices to cover the additional burden of supporting the mandated benefits.

Those additional costs are thus transferred from the business to its customers or ratepayers. And the perverse beauty of this, from the reactionary liberalism standpoint, is that the victims who are paying can’t figure out who to blame for having less money in their pockets. What a sweet deal!

A flagrant example of reactionary liberalism is now moving through the state house. This year’s chosen program is the forced promotion of renewable energy.

Enviro-liberals love the idea of renewable-source electricity for several reasons. Most of them believe, with far more fervor than evidence, that human carbon dioxide production has created the Menace of Global Warming, and will eventually boil the planet in its own juices.

Coal-fired power is anathema, due to its acid rain-causing emissions and environmentally destructive mining practices.

There are no significant hydroelectric sites left in Vermont, and liberals have always been uncomfortable with HydroQuebec’s giant power dams because they alter the environment (in northern Quebec) and discomfit the Cree Indians.

Nuclear power? Certainly not. Liberals hate everything about the Vermont Yankee plant and the Louisiana-based corporation that owns it. Thirty-seven years of producing clean, reliable, low-cost, zero-carbon electricity weighs nothing in their scales.

Thus the electricity of choice comes down to renewable wind, solar, and to a lesser extent, landfill methane. And reactionary liberalism has a nifty technique for promoting these hopelessly inefficient energy sources. Its House majority just passed a bill (H.446) that requires the utilities to purchase all the electrical output of small scale (2.2 Mw or less) wind and solar projects, up to a cumulative total of 50Mw.

This the utilities must do at a price, fixed by politicians, that guarantees the renewable power operators enough revenue to pay off their investment and operating costs, and yield a “reasonable” profit.

Of course, the renewable operators cannot produce electricity at anywhere near the going market price. So the House proposes to mandate that the utilities pay wind power operators 20 cents/KWhr, and solar electric generators 30 cents/KWhr, for twenty years. This is four and six times the price the utilities are now paying for a KiloWatt-hour from Vermont Yankee.

If this turns out to be not enough to produce ”sufficient incentives for the rapid development and commissioning of plants,” the Public Service Board, wholly unaccountable to rate payers and voters, can jack up the mandated prices. And the next legislature can easily remove the 2.2 Mw and 50 Mw cumulative caps.

Who will eat the cost of this mandated high-cost electricity? Everyone who uses electricity – but they will not understand why their power bills went up three percent (for openers), and who to hold accountable at the polls. That’s the beauty of reactionary liberalism to its practitioners. It combines hidden taxation with corporate welfare.

The House bill also provides that if a utility experiences grid reliability difficulties due to erratic generation from a mandated flock of off-again, on-again wind and solar plants, as recently happened in wind-intensive west Texas, “the state is not liable for the consequences”. Very thoughtful.

Meanwhile CVPS, under full-throated pressure from the enviro groups, grudgingly agreed to tear out the sixty year old Peterson Dam in Milton. Good riddance to that clean, renewable two-cent/KWhr power plant! Hurray for the fish! Is it any wonder that Vermont has become the butt of jokes among people with some grasp of economics, energy, and common sense?

Gov. Douglas has said that he does not support this shabby scheme. If there are enough reactionary liberals in the Senate to advance the House bill to his desk – highly likely – hope for another veto.

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