Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York Principle 8: Gresham’s Law of Green Energy

This is a background post for my pragmatic environmentalists principles listed in the about section of this blog. Jonathan Lesser has coined “Gresham’s Law of Green Energy” that I believe is another principle of a pragmatic environmentalist.

Gresham’s Law is named after Sir Thomas Gresham, a 16th-century British financier who observed that “bad money drives out the good.” Lesser shows that green energy subsidies transfers wealth and does not create wealth. The subsidies or “bad” money take money out of the system that was “good” inasmuch as it was being used productively. In particular he notes that “subsidized renewable resources will drive out competitive generators, lead to higher electric prices, and reduce economic growth”.

He explains his rationale as follows:

“The subsidies paid by ratepayers transfer wealth from existing generators to a chosen few renewable resource owners. One may like to rail against the existing generators — as many politicians have — but the long-run implications of such subsidies will be to destroy competitive wholesale electric markets and drive out existing competitors. This course of action will cost jobs because businesses, forced to pay higher electricity prices, will either relocate, contract, or disappear altogether. It will reduce the disposable income of consumers, who will forever be forced to subsidize renewable resources (just as they must now subsidize corn ethanol producers) — all in the name of ’green energy’.”

This is a particularly important principle for renewable energy benefit analyses, in particular “price suppression” such as that used in NY’s Clean Energy Standard. The idea is that increasing the supply of “cheap” electricity causes market prices to decrease so that consumers benefit. However, Lesser shows that these benefits are temporary and costly in the long run. Subsidizing the construction of renewable generation in a de-regulated state results in resources that manipulates the market to make it less efficient. Moreover, it eventually drives out existing generators and reduces the likelihood that new unsubsidized generating facilities will enter the market. Lesser notes that rather than building a better mousetrap, these policies are using subsidies to artificially and temporarily reduce the price of mousetraps.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. Originally I worked for consultants doing air quality modeling work for EPA and then went to work with electric utilities where I was responsible for compliance reporting and analyzed the impact and efficacy of air quality regulations. I retired from working for one utility company full-time in 2010 and then worked part-time for most of the New York utility companies as the Director of an environmental trade association until my full retirement at the end of 2016. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and I hope my blog ( reflects that outlook. Jokingly our job description is to bring the companies we represent to the table so that they are not on the menu. Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blog are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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