Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Playing Field Was Never Level

Many folks are aware of U.S. and state government efforts to increase subsidies for clean power. These can come in the form of production tax credits for clean power producers, as well as tax rebate and incentives for consumers purchasing solar, wind power systems.

To me, when I hear the word _subsidy_, I think "crutch," and crutch in the worst sense of the word. Something that is deployed in an artificial, unnatural, non-market, and essentially inefficient way to give assistance. I think this is the reaction of most of my friends and family as well. Not sure when the souring of the word "subsidy" occurred, or if there was ever a glory time for it's positive reaction in political discourse. I have my suspects, like the much maligned farm subsidies, or the attack on subsidies that underlied our march to an era of global free trade promotion.

But I think that the general lay person, outside power industries, is probably extremely unaware of the ongoing subsidies that occur across all power and fossil fuel industries. Here is a chart and good writeup from AWEA on the broad based degree of subsidization in American energy policy. Given the source, there may be some degree of bias here. Nonetheless, one gets a sense that a truly level, market based playing field is impossible, and that cleantech subsidies have a long long game of catchup to make up for an estimated $700 billion in dirty tech energy subsidies from 1950-1980 alone.