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In a May 23, 1977 column for Newsweek, titled “A Department of Energy?” the late Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman wrote:
Do not be misled into supposing that the energy problem is a purely technical problem that engineers can solve. No government engineer is in as good a position as you are to decide whether you would rather use expensive energy for heating your home, driving your car, or helping to produce one or another product for you to buy. No government engineer is in as good a position as the owner of a factory to choose the most economical fuel for his purposes or the cheapest way to conserve energy. No government engineer can replace the market in calculating the indirect effects of energy use or conservation. And no government engineer will enforce the ever more numerous edicts that will come down from on high. That will be done by policemen.
Such a line is even more relevant today than it was back then. Not just because we do now, in fact, have a Department of Energy, but because of the 29 state laws across the country that more specifically do exactly what Prof. Friedman said would inflict great harm on the economy. Namely, force people to consume expensive energy – whether or not they value or can afford it – simply because the government believes it has the technical authority to determine what form of energy is the best for us to use.
These laws, called renewable portfolio standards (RPS), or renewable electricity mandates, are laws that require utilities to sell or produce a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. Find out if your state has an RPS law here.
The Heartland Institute has written about RPS policy and traveled the country testifying in favor of its repeal for years. Last June, Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the first Governor to sign legislation that reduced the RPS. Hopefully that will dramatically improve the odds for similar bills in other states to become law in 2015.
Photo: Academy of Achievement