Solar energy is a wonderful thing, but it should pay it’s way without massive solar subsidies from ratepayers and taxpayers when we already have natural gas that doesn’t need subsidies.
New York State, and many others, are out there promoting solar energy like there’s no tomorrow. They are doing so with a panoply of solar subsidies and incentives that hide the true cost. They are following the German playbook and, if not careful, will end up in the same place, building more coal plants to catch up as the cost of all those subsidies becomes unbearable. There are better options that involve a combination of natural gas and renewables deployed in an economically efficient manner, but religious-like opposition to fossil fuels encourages the wasteful deployment of resources on solar schemes that don’t make sense. The Southern Tier Solar Works project appears to be one of those boondoggles.
Southern Tier Solar Works describes itself as an “initiative of the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition (BRSC) in partnership with the Susquehanna Group of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Catskill Mountainkeeper.” The involvement of the last two closely-related anti-gas entities is the first hint something more than promotion of solar energy is involved–that maybe some political advocacy is also involved with this sucking off the multiple teats of the ratepayer/taxpayer sow.
BRSC is an anti-gas group. It commented on the New York DEC Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, offering this crystal clear perspective on its position:
…We also know that you are under tremendous pressure by the gas industry and a small minority of our population who stand to profit by this venture.”
Then, there was that Binghamton fracking protest rally where Chris Burger, BRSC Director, told this whopper against all plain to see evidence to the contrary:
“History and experience shows that communities as a whole are left economically diminished after fracking occurs, with their future competitiveness severely compromised.”
The group is also listed as an affiliate of the Coalition to Protect New York (motto: “Let’s live frack-free”), which is a Sustainable Markets Foundation (Rockefeller) initiative, about which we have written numerous times. It was incorporated on August 3, 2009 by Chris Burger, fractivist Adam Flint and David Currie and filed for tax-exempt status on November, 9, 2009, at which time it offered this, substantiating the political nature of the group:
BRSC is advocating a statewide moratorium to study the social, economic, and environment al impacts of drilling; to revise and strengthen current regulations accordingly so that our communities and resources are protected; and to bolster enforcement agencies and mechanisms to guarantee the long-term economic, social and environmental health of Upstate New York.
Despite this obvious political activity (also illustrated by the poster to the right), the IRS granted BRSC 501(c)3 tax-exempt status on June 4, 2010. Up to that point, the organization said it operated under the fiscal sponsorship of Broome County Peace Action (interestingly, there seems to be no corporation by that name, but perhaps it uses still another corporate name). It also claimed to have been in line for a $50,000 challenge grant but the grantor was never identified.
There’s a lot we don’t know about BRSC, in fact, because five years after it incorporated and four years after getting a questionable tax-exemption, it apparently has yet to publicly file a financial return with New York State. The organization made a filing for 2012 with the New York State Charities Bureau, but attached no financial information and claimed no exemption for doing so. Likewise, there is no Federal 990 return on file with Guidestar. Yet, it has been receiving and spending money for things such as its Southern Tier Solar Works project.
That is just the beginning, though, for there are several other mysteries connected with this project. A look at the Southern Tier Solar Works “About” web page indicates BRSC uses a private for-profit company named ETM Solar, from Endicptt, NY as its “pilot project primary installer.” ETM (stands for extra-terrestrial materials) is run by Dr. Gay E. Canough, who has an aerospace background and has been promoting and building solar projects for over two decades. She also ran unsuccessfully for the Broome County Legislator in 2012, taking an anti-fracking position that qualified her for the Working Families Party endorsement. You can see her in action in this ShaleShock Media production called “What’s the Alternative to Fracking” and this video where she appears (on left) with US Senate Green Party candidate Cecile Lawrence:
Conough had this to say in an article about another solar company coming to the region:
Gay Canough, CEO and founder of ETM, said her company has done 70 site assessments for Southern Tier Solar Works and 14 people are currently signed up for the program.
Each year, Canough said, ETM needs about 60 residential installations to make a modest profit. She said the local market for solar energy is small but growing as people find out more about the benefits.
Canough is an obviously qualified individual, but why is BRSC, as a non-profit, promoting the use of one particular for-profit company? Moreover, this promotion is apparently being done using students working out of Binghamton University under the direction of Adam Flint, one of the BRSC incorporators and Southern Tier Solar Works program manager, under something called the Energy Leadership Program, which is part of the University’s “Center for Civic Engagement.”
Following all this? You can already see the tangled web of solar subsidies and relationships involved, which include using layers of tax-emption and public entities to do what other industries have to do on their own. There also seem to be no worries whatsoever about overlapping interests or the melding of the private and the public, the non-profit and profit.
It’s worth repeating here that solar is a wonderful thing, but not if you have to go to this extent to make it work. Southern Tier Solar Works is, of course, taking full advantage of a whole range of solar subsidies through the state, which include low-interest financing at ratepayer/taxpayer expense and state and federal incentives that pay for 20-35% of the installation cost, which is how actor Mark Ruffalo ripped off ratepayers/taxpayers for his system. This is no free lunch.
The entanglement of fractivist groups such as the NRDC and its Catskill Mountainkeeper stepchild with Southern Tier Solar Works also raises questions about the appropriateness of Binghamton University’s involvement with this project through its Energy Leadership Program. When, exactly, does Adam Flint leave his role as program manager of the Energy Leadership Program and take up the one as program manager for Southern Tier Solar Works. Non-profits aren’t supposed to be involved in activities that benefit particular individuals, after all. The solicitation of interns to support this activity generates still more questions (emphasis added):
The ELP is looking for new interns for the spring and summer semesters of 2014 to assist with the continued efforts of this campaign. Interns will assist with conducting community outreach services related to energy efficiency and the environment helping to cut carbon, create green jobs, stimulate the local economy, and support community members in becoming energy and environmental stewards. Interns will gain knowledge and experience in the field of energy, environment, public sector, and non-profit work. Overview: Type of position: Intern, compensation TBD Time Commitment: 8-10 hrs/week spring, 25-30 hrs/week summer Location: Binghamton, NY The Energy Leadership Program is aimed to provide energy and environmental education and cliental services to various parts of the community. Interns may service residential and commercial building owners as well as youth. Interns will be trained to provide such services through an understanding and adherence to appropriate policies and programs such as Green Jobs Green New York, 4-H, and local government initiatives. Interns will work be trained to apply a number of outreach strategies including educational presentations, client support, marketing, and information systems management.
The interns, in other words, will operate under the aegis of Binghamton University to market Southern Tier Solar Works projects that benefit one private company, ETM Solar, in particular, as well as the interests of Adam Flint, it’s program manager. How is any of this appropriate and why isn’t BRSC filing financial reports that would identify these relationships, as it is required to do?
Worse yet is the fact this same Energy Leadership Program produced the likes of Isaac Silberman-Gorn, about whom we have written much in the past. He’s a professional fractivist now under the employ of Citizen Action. He’s also offered as an example of the program’s success in a “Success Stories” fact sheet put out by still another entity in this tangled web of solar subsidies called Green Jobs Green New York Southern Tier.
This initiative is self-described as a “community-based energy efficiency program funded through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and by a Department of Energy (DOE) grant obtained by the City of Binghamton.” More solar subsidies, more entities, more entanglement of the public and private. Here’s how Silberman-Gorn is depicted:
The Energy Leadership Program, in other words, is providing a platform for fractivists while it markets solar subsidies for the benefit of certain individuals and companies. Talk about a conflict of interest and the inappropriate use of public funds! Notice Isaac is even pictured wearing his Citizen Action tee-shirt.
Now you get the full picture. This entire initiative is one big tangled web of politics and solar subsidies that wouldn’t be tolerated in the case of other industries. Solar has a future and we’re happy to advocate for it because natural gas and renewables are naturally complementary, a point we’ve made over and over. But, when you politically bend the rules like this, it simply distorts the economics of energy and ensures problems down the road. Think Europe. Let’s untangle the web before we end up there.