Conservative heavyweights have solar industry in their sights

The Koch brothers and large utilities have allied to reverse state policies that favor renewable energy. Environmentalists are pushing back, but the fight is spreading and intensifying.

Americans for Prosperity, run by David Koch, shown here, and his brother, Charles, has led the effort to overturn a law in Kansas that requires 20% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources. (Phelan M. Ebanhack / Associated Press / August 30, 2013)

WASHINGTON — The political attack ad that ran recently in Arizona had some familiar hallmarks of the genre, including a greedy villain who hogged sweets for himself and made children cry.

But the bad guy, in this case, wasn’t a fat-cat lobbyist or someone’s political opponent.

He was a solar-energy consumer.

Solar, once almost universally regarded as a virtuous, if perhaps over-hyped, energy alternative, has now grown big enough to have enemies.

The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation’s largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.

Alarmed environmentalists and their allies in the solar industry have fought back, battling the other side to a draw so far. Both sides say the fight is growing more intense as new states, including Ohio, South Carolina and Washington, enter the fray.

At the nub of the dispute are two policies found in dozens of states. One requires utilities to get a certain share of power from renewable sources. The other, known as net metering, guarantees homeowners or businesses with solar panels on their roofs the right to sell any excess electricity back into the power grid at attractive rates.

Net metering forms the linchpin of the solar-energy business model. Without it, firms say, solar power would be prohibitively expensive.

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Wolf protection plan raises hackles in Southwest

The U.S. wants to ban most killing of wild Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona, and expand the area where the animals can roam. But many see federal overreach.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to extend Endangered Species Act protections for an estimated 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / January 25, 1998)

ALBUQUERQUE — In the small, rural community of Reserve, children waiting for the school bus gather inside wooden and mesh cages provided as protection from wolves. Parents consider the “kid cages” a reasonable precaution.

Defenders of the wolves note there have been no documented wolf attacks in New Mexico or Arizona. Fears of wolves attacking humans, they say, are overblown, and the cages nothing more than a stunt.

In 1995, the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves into the northern Rockies ignited a furor.

In 1995, the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves into the northern Rockies ignited a furor.

Such protections would make it illegal to kill wolves in most instances. The new federal plan would also significantly expand the area where the wolves could roam unmolested.

To many conservatives in the West, such protections are examples of government overreach — idealistic efforts by officials who don’t know what it’s like to live with wolves.

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