Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, June 28, 2012
Reprinted June 29, 2012 with permission, Environment and Energy Publishing, LLC
Renewable Energy Group Takes Aim At Critics
A renewable energy advocacy group has launched a Web portal aimed at disseminating information about wind, solar, biomass and other alternative fuels while also refuting what it characterizes as lies and misinformation being peddled by opponents of renewable energy.
The website, called EnergyFactCheck.org, debuted last week in conjunction with the Renewable Energy Finance Forum sponsored by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). The site represents a new public face for ACORE, which is registered as a 501(c)(3) organization and does not lobby Congress on policy issues.
Even so, retired Navy Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, ACORE's president and CEO, said the site became a necessity as renewable energy policy has become increasingly subject to political hyperbole and distortions.
In an interview, McGinn said ACORE will retain its business-focused, nonpartisan approach to advancing renewable energy technologies broadly. But, he said, the group "felt that we had to get balance back into the conversation," something he maintains was lost last year in the aftermath of the collapse of solar tube manufacturer Solyndra.
"Our energy policies have become overly politicized," he said. As a result, numerous renewable energy success stories have been overshadowed by the public fixation on a small number of failures.
The Solyndra problem
Solyndra, which also defaulted on a $535 million Energy Department loan guarantee, became a potent symbol for critics of federal incentive programs aimed at advancing the development and deployment of alternative energy.
Republicans in Congress have been particularly critical of the Obama administration's energy investments, repeatedly citing the Solyndra bankruptcy as an example of what they consider a ham-handed approach by Democrats in the White House and Congress to advance renewable energy without considering its economic viability.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently used Solyndra's shuttered Fremont, Calif., plant as a backdrop to criticize Obama energy policies. He reminded voters that as recently as 2010, the president visited the same site and called the company "an engine of economic growth" (E&ENews PM, May 31).
McGinn, while careful not to criticize Romney, Obama or other politicians, said ACORE will act "swiftly and aggressively" to refute claims that are factually wrong or that purposely distort information to score political points.
"We have a very solid, fact-based type of agenda," he said. "We're not trying to get one party elected or push any particular policy. What we are trying to do is put solid information about the cost benefits of renewable energy in front of people, so that when we have discussions about renewable energy in the press, or among policymakers and their staffs, it can be based on something other than the latest overblown story about a failed company or something like that."
McGinn also said the site will not present information to criticize or degrade traditional energy sources like fossil fuels, but it will act quickly to refute specious claims about renewable energy regardless of where they originate.
"We want to take a high road," he said. "We don't want to get into name-calling. But if there's a particularly egregious piece of information out there, we're not going to be afraid to respond to it and attribute its source."
The site will not be able to avoid politics entirely, though.
Trying to counter the 'gotcha cycle'
ACORE's primary contributors include the primary lobbying organizations representing renewable energy firms and environmental causes in Washington and beyond. They include Ceres, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the American Wind Energy Association, the National Hydropower Association and the Electric Drive Transportation Association.
McGinn said the materials being posted on the EnergyFactCheck.org site are not partisan in nature. Rather, they are industry data, white papers, expert analyses and other documents that can be independently vetted and verified.
Genevieve Cullen, vice president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, said her organization's decision to contribute to EnergyFactCheck.org was based on a wish to extend its informational reach beyond electric vehicle owners and enthusiasts and make broader connections between EVs and other forms of renewable energy.
She said that ACORE and EDTA had successfully worked together on other initiatives, and that the launch of a fact-based website drawing on the resources of a variety of renewable energy industries made strategic sense. "There's a completely intuitive link there. Electric transpiration is the way you bring renewable power into the transportation sector," she said.
Asked if her industry had been a victim of misinformation or factual distortion by interest groups or politicians, Cullen said that "there has been a lot of noise in this segment" and that people often "try to put things against each other." She added that certain industries can get caught in a "gotcha cycle" when bad news happens.