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Good day for free market in energy ballot initiatives

Anthony Randazzo
November 4, 2008, 12:23pm

In the midst of the climate change debate is the issue of how much personal liberty or free market practice or fiscal responsibility can be sacrificed in order to make America a more green energy friendly nation. Hopefully the answer is: none. But when self-proclaimed conservatives such as Thomas Friedman fantasize over the U.S. becoming "China for a day" so the federal government can handout-sweeping mandates for energy efficiency to save the planet, then liberty has a problem. So every little win counts. There were several ballot initiatives yesterday on energy and climate change, liberty won most, but lost one: California Proposition 7: Win for free markets California voted down this measure that would have required publicly-owned utilities to produce 50 percent of their power from renewable energy resources by 2025. This was a win for free markets because it allows the market to adjust more naturally to price signals from consumers. Utilities do however, still have to produce 20 percent of their power via renewable energy by 2020 according to a previously pass provision. Missouri Proposition C: Loss for free markets The "Missouri Clean Energy Initiative" was approved bv voters and will require the state's three large investor-owned utilities to have at least 15 percent of their power come from renewable sources by 2021, and of that 2 percent must be from solar power. This similar measure to California will force the market to adapt to government mandates instead of consumer demand, but what is worse is that it caps utilities fee increases at one percent per year, meaning the utilities may not be able to recoup their increased costs. This will set an artificially low price that does not reflect true market value and could skew how firms use energy. It might also cause a significant price spike in 2022. California Proposition 10: Win for free markets This initiative would have issued a $5 billion bond, requiring the state to borrow still more money in the face of its budget and debt issues, to finance clean-energy initiatives. Most of that money would have been used to provide "incentives" for people buying hybrids (and other "alternative-fuel vehicles") or wanting to research renewable energy. This would have put the state deeper in debt in order to artificially reduce the price of a luxury good in tough economic times. A win for free markets and the California budget. Colorado Amendment 58: Win for free markets Colorado residents rejected raising taxes on gas and oil companies, and using that money to fund education programs. This will hopefully serve as a sign to the federal government when considering a windfall tax on the oil industry. Florida Amendment 3: Win for free markets Florida voters approved a measure that allows residents to add renewable energy devices to their homes without it raising the taxable value of the homestead. This is a good way for the government to encourage more efficient energy consumption and renewable energy sources: but offering tax breaks. Note, this is not a tax credit (the government giving money), but its stopping the tax code from creating perverse incentives to energy usage.

Anthony Randazzo is Director of Economic Research


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