Sunshine Payola

Now that Peter Blake has taken his retirement package from the Rocky Mountain News, he seems to writing for the paper for free. But, whether or not he’s not being paid for his work, his articles remain invaluable. His February 28 article describes the case of a Rick Gilliam, who pushed for mandates for solar power before cashing in on… solar power. Here is the story as Blake tells it:

Amendment 37, an initiative approved by voters in 2004, was designed by renewable-energy advocates. It specified that 10 percent of the power generated by the state’s largest utilities had to come from renewable sources by 2015. Most will come from wind, which, though unreliable as a baseload source, is relatively cheap. But solar, although far more expensive, has its advocates, and they must be appeased. The initiative specified that 4 percent of the 10 percent [meaning 4 percent of total energy] be generated by the sun.

The voters chose in 2004, but three years later the legislature was so confident that renewables were popular it decided to kick up their share to 20 percent, by 2020, without a referendum.

Rick Gilliam of Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit environmental group, was the principal author of Amendment 37 and its registered representative. In 2005 and 2006, after Amendment 37 passed, he won major environmental awards.

But in January 2007 he… join[ed] SunEdison of Baltimore as director of Western states policy. SunEdison had just landed a contract from Xcel to build the largest “solar electric farm” in Colorado, near Alamosa. Designed to produce 8.22 megawatts capable of powering 2,600 homes along the Front Range, it cost $60 million. It went online late last year.

In other words, Gilliam is responsible for the forced transfer of wealth to solar-electric producers — including himself. Neat trick! But this is hardly new: who do you think pushed for the corn-gas laws? Or the mercury-bulb laws? Rent seeking is the second-oldest profession in human history, if not nearly as honorable.