The Fox News reports on solar power that included interviews in Boise came out Wednesday, and, as expected, they focused on subsidies.
But the coverage, which included both a news report and a bizarre piece on "Fox & Friends," only scratched the surface about the role of the free market in the energy debate - and included some comical conclusions.
Producer Jim Springer reported online that the reduction of subsidies leads some to conclude that the future of solar power is dimming.
In fact, the opposite is the case. Fewer subsidies are needed as solar panel prices have dropped and the power from them has become more competitive with other sources of energy.
Springer also reported that investor-owned utilities are having to raise rates on nonsolar customers to cover the costs of the infrastructure to serve them. Because they use less energy, he said, the utilities have to shift the costs to the customers who are using more energy.
He interviews Courtney White, who has been the subject of much of my reporting about Idaho Power's proposed quadrupling of rates for many customers of its net-metering system, which allows them to sell back surplus power to the utility at retail rates.
And he interviewed Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, vice chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee.
"To me, the test is how cost-effective it is," Eskridge told Fox News. "When solar is more expensive than other resources, I don't think the other consumers in the system should have to subsidize that power resource."
What Springer left out of his reporting were the benefits the solar customers give to the rest of Idaho Power's customers. When they are producing power in the summer, it would cost Idaho Power far more than retail rates to replace that power during peak periods.
There's another consideration, too. The company that has a monopoly over power distribution in its area is replacing that power with sources it builds, the costs of which are passed on to customers. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission then approves a set rate of return that goes to Idaho Power shareholders.
So the solar customers, who are paying their capital costs themselves, are saving the other customers money over the long term, as long as the fixed costs for the utility are not enormous. This is the balancing act Fox ignored.
But the most laughable reporting came on "Fox & Friends." Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi talked about why Germany has had so much success with rooftop solar, while the U.S. has lagged behind.
"They're a smaller country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do," Joshi told anchor Gretchen Carlson. "The problem is, it's a cloudy day and it's raining, you're not gonna have it.
"Here on the East Coast, it's just not going to work," she said.
Germany? More sun?
Germany's success with solar is directly tied to its generous subsidies and how it has integrated renewable energy into its grid. It has no more sun than the East Coast and a heck of a lot less than we have here.
In fact, the U.S. gets more sun than Germany, which gets about as much sunshine as Alaska, according to Slate's reporting on data from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Germany is eliminating many of its subsidies because prices on solar panels have come down so much that solar is competitive with other new sources of power. Germany is allowing people to put solar on their homes instead of having to build more fossil fuel plants. Germany still needs those plants if it doesn't build nuclear plants, because the sun doesn't shine at night.
But improved battery technology and rising fossil fuel prices could make solar even more competitive. Remember, any new source of power costs more than legacy sources such as hydroelectric dams.
Fox had a real opportunity to talk about the potential role of freeing up energy markets to help consumers and give them more choices. To its credit, Fox's reporters did not demonize subsidies - pointing out we have subsidized the tech, nuclear, and oil and gas industries.
But it made the mistake many people who are looking at the solar industry in the U.S. make. They mixed solar manufacturing - which has had mostly failures competing against the Chinese - with the solar installation and production business, which is thriving thanks to low prices.
The U.S. failure has come not because we don't have enough sun. Unlike Germany, we haven't learned how to integrate solar into our political and regulatory system yet.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484