Take it or Leave it: Wind Subsidies and Conflicted Values, Left & Right…by Jim Stiles



For more than a decade, I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the lack of honesty in politics and have observed a vast chasm between the professed ideologies of BOTH liberals and conservatives and the Reality of their actions. If I allowed myself to vent about the stunning hypocrisy of politics at the national level my rant would fill far more column inches than would ever fit in this publication, so let me limit my disaffection to my own neck of the woods.

It’s no secret that a decade or so ago, I became disillusioned with my environmentalist friends whose once honest efforts to protect the remaining wildlands of Utah in their purest form, gave way to the huckster-like promotion of ‘wilderness’ as a product to be packaged and sold. In fact, at the infamous ‘Wilderness Mentoring Conference of 1998,”  a prominently displayed quote by Michael Carroll, now of The Wilderness Society, established the tone and direction of all  that would come later:

“Car companies and makers of sports drinks use wilderness to sell their products. We have to market wilderness as a product people want to have.”

Seeking protection for wilderness became a bewildering and conflicted pursuit for me as I saw the environmental community turn a blind eye to the dangers and impacts caused by recreation and tourism. Almost 20 years ago, a leading Utah environmentalist warned that “industrial tourism” created “more potential to disrupt natural processes on a broad scale than just about anything else.” Today, you’d never hear that sentiment expressed out loud.

The great conservation writer Wendell Berry once noted, “this is what is wrong with the conservation movement. It has a clear conscience.” He added, “To the conservation movement, it is only production that causes environmental degradation; the consumption that supports the production is rarely acknowledged to be at fault.”

Honest words that fall on deaf ears these days. As Monticello’s neighbor to the north explodes with more motels and more gridlock, with predominantly low-paying jobs and with affordable housing a fading memory, clearly many “progressives” have lost touch with their own core values.

* * *

But what about Conservatives? Even right here in San Juan County…do they stay loyal and true to their core beliefs?

Consider the recent arrival of the Latigo Wind Farm with its 27 massive turbines, sprawled across the foothills of the Abajo Mountains just north of Monticello. The project has generated considerable debate and discussion among San Juan County residents. Some locals like Latigo, others loathe the project.

Bill Boyle.

Bill Boyle.

In a recent San Juan Record editorial, publisher Bill Boyle made the case FOR the turbines, noting that a preponderance of land in the county is publicly owned; consequently, he explained, the county needs to take advantage of whatever industry can be generated on private land. Bill wrote, “In a time of a decreasing tax base, the Latigo Wind Farm will help local governments maintain services and stem tax increases.” Bill urged support for Latigo and added, “Don’t forget that it truly is a private investment of private money on private property.”

But when the story was posted on the San Juan Record’s facebook page, San Juan County resident Scott Mitchell asked, “‘truly private investment’? How so if if it is subsidized?”

Bill Boyle replied, “A large number of industries receive subsidies of one type or another, but that does not determine if they are private or public. This includes farming, oil and gas pipelines, telecommunications, utilities, financial, health care, housing, education, defense. The list goes on and on.”

That may be true, but to me, this kind of argument diminishes the credibility and honesty of the conservative cause.  Bill, in effect, is saying, ‘everybody else takes federal money, why shouldn’t we? It’s just the way it is.’ wind-pq1

Isn’t that EXACTLY why it’s difficult to take conservative opposition to federal spending very seriously? The alternative energy subsidy program is a favorite of the Obama Administration, a Democratic president, who dramatically expanded subsidies for wind and solar projects across the country and who recently pushed to make the subsidies permanent. How is it possible that in Monticello, especially, so many of its citizens can find favor with a federal program promoted by a president they seem to, in all other ways, despise?

I recently looked up the voting results for Monticello in the last presidential election. Mitt Romney collected 856 votes to Obama’s 95. Romney won the support of 90.1% of Monticello residents; Obama just 9.9%. Clearly there is little support for the policies of the Obama Administration. And yet, opposition to the wind farm has been muted at best.

vibe-mitt-obama-debateTrying to determine what the mood of other conservatives might be, I sought the opinions of the conservative media and its views on wind subsidies….

In an opinion piece for The Hill, called, “Wind Subsidies Survive on Back Room Deals,” Christine Harbin, deputy director of Federal Affairs for Americans for Prosperity, argued, “The Left says that it wants to inspire creativity and opportunity in the energy space and elsewhere, but they rely on old-school top-down handouts and mandates. Government-directed innovation simply doesn’t work …American taxpayers have seen very little return on our forced investment in wind energy over the past 20 years, especially in terms of long-term job creation and economic viability. Worse, decades on, the industry continues to lean on taxpayers and rely on special-interest, government giveaways.”

The conservative Institute for Energy Research complained, “In his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal, President Obama wants to make the major wind subsidy (the production tax credit or PTC as it is commonly called) permanent. For the past 23 years, the American taxpayer has subsidized wind power to the tune of tens of billions of dollars without seeing any major contribution to U.S. energy supply.”

The climate change-denying website, cfact.org, in an article called, “Wind Subsidies a Massive Failure, wrote, “What is astonishing is the way both the U.S. and Europe adopted renewable energy production because it is unpredictable and mindlessly expensive. A major factor why the global warming hoax is collapsing is that it has cost everyone here and in Europe billions in loans and subsidies. Both solar and wind require a backup from traditional power sources that utilize coal, oil, and natural gas.”

Opinions from the Right were almost unanimous. Breibart offered this headline: “Wind Turbines are breitbart-logo‘Expensive, Unreliable, and Inefficient.'” The Washington Times complained that, “Wind Energy Gambles with Taxpayer Chip.” Another ‘The Hill’ headline proclaimed, “Wind Power Production tax credit: Wall St. wolf in green clothing.”

* * *

Keep in mind, these aren’t my own views on alternative energy, they are the outspoken voices of America’s conservative movement. Personally, I like the idea of wind and solar power, but on a much smaller scale. The technology for rooftop solar is already available and could be implemented across the country. Imagine being able to reduce your monthly electric bill via the photovoltaic panels mounted on your roof. And I love the idea of being free and clear, or at least less dependent upon the Big Energy Companies that we are always beholden to.

I’d also have been in favor of wind power for Monticello, had a local wind farm been constructed for the purpose of reducing the town’s dependence on, and cost from, traditional power sources and Empire Electric.  Again, the technology is there; all the idea lacks is the political will to do something different.

But  ‘alternative energy’ on a corporate level, subsidized by the government, fails to impress me. It’s just business as usual, in an artificially green suit.

And yet, across America, the only conservative strongholds that embrace and support federal wind subsidies are the ones who–you guessed it—RECEIVE federal wind money. Even Sam Brownback, the ultra-Right Republican governor of Kansas turns a blind eye to his own pronounced opposition to runaway federal spending and quietly takes the wind money and runs.

But it took a billionaire DEMOCRAT to sum it up best. While other ‘progressives’ claim to support wind energy as a viable option and a way to save the world, Warren Buffett told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska in 2014,  “I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate. For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”


In San Juan County, I understand that the wind farm was built on private land and that it was the landowners’ decision to lease their property. Fair enough. But that isn’t the issue here. Wind subsidies are the topic of the debate—in Monticello, a town where 90% of the residents opposed President Obama in the last election, one would think that an equal number would be in opposition to federally mandated wind subsidies. But clearly support for the subsidies is stronger than that. The bottom line is—without the federal subsidies, ‘private’ developments like Latigo would never have happened.

And so it comes as a surprise, to me at least, to discover how many Closet Obama Lovers apparently reside on the flanks of my beloved Blue Mountains. Personally, I kind of like the guy too, at least some times, even if we sharply disagree on corporate wind farms and the federal money that makes them possible.

The world continues to astound me.



Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.

Elsewhere in this issue, read Geologist Gene Stevenson’s Tilting at Windmills

Also, read TWELVE PICTURES ARE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS…by Jim Stiles. about the Latigo Wind Project.

And, from October, ‘THE LATIGO WIND PROJECT: For Better or Worse, the Future has Arrived in Monticello, Utah’…by Jim Stiles

To read the PDF version of this article, click here.

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5 comments for “Take it or Leave it: Wind Subsidies and Conflicted Values, Left & Right…by Jim Stiles

  1. Bill Boyle
    February 1, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Jim, I am still shaking my head at Take It or Leave It. Jim revisits issues related to the Latigo Wind Park, northwest
    of Monticello. Stiles finds “stunning hypocrisy” in the local support for the Latigo project, suggesting that conservative
    local residents should shun projects that involvement federal subsidies.
    Jim uses my December 2 Dust in the Wind column as an example. My article pointed out that the Latigo Wind Farm, north of Monticello, is built entirely on private ground.
    I wrote, “It truly is a private investment of private money on private property. No public land is involved.”
    The article is not a defense of federal wind subsidies. They are not even mentioned. It is a reminder of the on-the-ground reality in San Juan County.
    After the story was printed, Scott Mitchell asked on Facebook if the wind farm is truly private investment, since there
    are subsidies involved.
    Fair question. The answer to the question is yes, it is private investment.
    Is it private investment when a local rancher buys a new pickup? Of course it is, even if he participates in the CRP program.
    Is it private investment if a doctor spends savings to expand his business? Of course it is, even if he has Medicare patients.
    Is it private investment when a young family buys their first home? Of course it is, even if the loan goes through Fannie Mae.
    Is it private investment when a uranium miner builds a private mill? Of course it is, even if uranium is highly subsidized by the federal government.
    Is it private investment when a private company builds a wind farm on private ground? Of course it
    is, even if they take advantage of federal subsidies.
    sPower has made an enormous investment in the project, and they will receive a production tax
    credit from the U.S. government over the 20-year life of the project. But that still means that they will
    have put private money into the project. It is certainly private investment.
    A simple question and a simple answer: yes.
    I still can’t fathom how Jim takes my simple answer and creates a quote, in quotes, of what I “really” said. Sorry Jim, but you misquote me about something I didn’t say.
    Once again, the article (and Facebook response) is not a defense of federal wind subsidies. They are
    not even mentioned.
    Jim then uses 2012 voting information that shows overwhelming local support for the Republican candidate: Mitt Romney. I’m pretty sure that the local support for Romney over Obama was not based upon their policies
    toward wind subsidies.
    Then Jim takes what may be the deepest cut of all to San Juan County residents. Apparently, anyone who supports the wind farm is a Closet Obama Lover, a label so formal it is capitalized.
    The reality is not as clear as Jim would like it to appear. Until President Obama made climate change a political issue, wind subsidies had always been bipartisan.
    Rather than beginning or ending with Obama, federal subsidies for wind energy have been in place for nearly 23 years. They began in 1992, with legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush.
    They began years before Barack Obama became president, about the time he was organizing neighborhoods
    in Chicago.
    In fact, the most aggressive use of the subsidies began in Texas under the administration of Governor George W. Bush.
    The local process to develop wind resource began 15 years ago, at the beginning of the George
    W. Bush administration, and long before any Closet Obama Lovers (COLs?) could form in Monticello.
    Obama and Romney were clearly at odds over wind subsidies in 2012, but it is not correct to suggest that subsidies are a bellwether of liberal or conservative politics. There is a wide range of opinion among Republican nominees for president over the continuation of subsidies.
    Donald Trump and Chris Christie favor continued credits, while others are adamantly against. Interestingly, Jeb Bush is against subsidies, even though his brother and father supported them. I guess 41 & 43 are COLs.

  2. Jim Stiles
    February 9, 2016 at 9:34 am

    In response to Bill Boyle’s recent “Dust in the Wind” comments re: my own essay about federal wind subsidies and ‘conflicted values,” I’d like to set a few things straight.

    First, Bill wrote, “Stiles finds ‘stunning hypocrisy’ in the local support for the Latigo project, suggesting that conservative local residents should shun projects that involvement federal subsidies.”

    No Bill. My article began with a reference to, “the stunning hypocrisy of politics at the national level,” both left and right, and I noted that the subject overwhelmed me. Then, I pointed out that on a local level, many conservatives AND liberals don’t even come close to living the ideology they claim to embrace. That’s why the first part of my article, which Boyle managed to ignore completely, went to great lengths to expose the hypocrisy of some of the ‘progressives’ in Moab, who loathe the sight of an oil well or a cow, but take absolute delight in the construction of five more motels. They promote wilderness but don’t care how many millions of people trample it, as long as they’re on foot. They don’t care that their strategy to exclusively push tourism has created an economy composed significantly of low wage jobs and a housing market where starter homes list for a quarter million dollars.

    On the other hand, I pointed out that many residents of San Juan County strongly support the very specific brand of Conservatism that almost always opposes these kinds of federal giveaways. And yet, reading ‘The San Juan Record,’ one gets the impression there is overwhelming support for a project like Latigo. My tongue-in-cheek comment about Obama Lovers in Monticello was just that. I simply don’t believe there are as many wind subsidy boosters as Boyle’s rosy pro-Latigo editorials suggest.

    Bill Boyle cites George W Bush’s support of wind subsidies and suggests that it was a “bi-partisan issue” for more than 20 years. Yet, the current political rebellion, the one shaking the Republican Party to its core, is due to the fact that many of its more conservative members no longer feel represented by their own party.

    Further, in the very same issue that Bill expressed bewilderment with my article, one of his other columnists, Joe B Lyman penned a piece called, “Bite the Federal Hand.” Lyman complained about a sign he’d seen that read, “Don’t Bite the Federal Hand that Feeds You.”

    THAT, Lyman wrote, was the problem. He talked about the limits that he thought should be imposed on federal spending and quoted Ezra Taft Bensen, who believed the federal government exists only “to protect the citizens.” And Joe complained about people who “vote for the politician who will give them the most stuff.” I would think Lyman might have earned some of Boyle’s ire as well.

    Now, I don’t agree with Lyman on many things. In fact, I support federal funding for basic services to the poor of this country. You know…welfare. Maybe there are some that abuse the system, but it also feeds millions of children and gives a hand up to deserving, struggling Americans of all ages. But when it comes to passing out federal subsidies to big corporations, whether it’s to sPower for wind energy, or Obama’s disastrous Solyndra give-away a few years ago, I agree with Lyman. And I think many others in San Juan County do too.

    Also, in Bill’s comments he tries to compare other “private investments” who receive federal assistance. He mentions ranchers and doctors and young home buyers who might secure loans or payments through federal programs and compares these individuals to giant corporations. Seriously? Is that even remotely a valid analogy?

    Yes, Bill Boyle, sPower is a “private investment.” And yes, Bill originally managed to offer his support for “private investment” without even once mentioning the subsidies. But without the federal subsidies, Latigo wouldn’t have happened. The subsidies didn’t just make Latigo easier. They didn’t just make the project more profitable…


    But I can understand Bill’s personal objections to my essay, because he doesn’t seem to have a problem with corporations and other entities taking money wherever they can get it, if he thinks the project is worthwhile. Clearly, Bill Boyle believes the end justifies the means. After all, that’s how the Discovery Center was built.

    It’s a fact that the $13 million to fund this project–that Bill Boyle introduced and promoted in Monticello more than a decade ago–was mostly paid for by the very same mega-millionaires and billionaires that donate so generously to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Grand Canyon Trust (the very same entities that have such a low opinion of ‘rural values’ in San Juan County).

    It’s also a fact that ‘The San Juan Record’ failed to report those donor details until the monies were secure and a construction starting date was all but set. Way back in 2012, doing a Google search, I was surprised to discover an obscure reference to the mega-donors, in tiny type, on the Four Corners School web site. But when I then asked Bill why he hadn’t published that information for San Juan County citizens to read, he told me, “Janet Ross isn’t ready to do a press release yet.” Ultimately the donor information wasn’t published in the Record until Spring 2014.

    As Bill explained the strategy to me, over burgers at R & F Cafe, Ross was able to secure these extraordinary contributions by playing to the passions and interests of some Big Money environmental donors, like corporate kingpins Hansjorg Wyss and David Bonderman. He said Ross convinced them that San Juan County was a virtual black hole of wrongheaded/backward thinking, full of Cliven Bundy types, but that one way the county might move toward enlightenment and a more erudite population was via an educational facility like—of course—The Discovery Center. Subsequently, the Big Pockets were convinced and the money poured in. I still recall how impressed Bill was with Janet Ross’s fundraising skills.

    The fact that this kind of liberal hypocrisy manages to stay out of the headlines shouldn’t be a surprise either. And yet, how DO ‘green’ groups manage to rationalize millions of dollars in contributions from corporate industrialists, venture capitalists and banking financiers who own some of the most polluting companies on the planet, and still pretend they’re trying to ‘save the world?’

    Ultimately, the point of my story was that there seems to be enough hypocrisy on BOTH sides of the aisle to make just about everybody squirm a bit. What’s troubling is why people aren’t squirming even more, instead of spending their time gripped in the throes of self-rationalization and denial.

  3. Deryck Muehlhauser
    February 9, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    We always enjoy reading your CanyonCountyZephyr articles including those with which we may occasionally find in disagreement. Alternate energy is becoming more cost-effective and forcing some re-evaluation of oil and natural gas.

    The ‘Tilting at Windmills’ article was interesting, but there’s more to the story than understanding power and energy per gallon. Our current equipment inefficiencies, increasing consumer diet, and growing population drives the demand for more energy. There are solutions to each of these. It’s quite easy to criticize new ideas and techniques, but they will mature if kept in the contest and the best ones will eventually become the replacements.

  4. Jim Stiles
    February 9, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Deryck…Thanks for your comments. Like I noted in my piece, I don’t oppose smaller scale projects, but these corporate-driven giveaways, especially in a high altitude venue like Monticello just don’t make sense. If you remember the infamous Book Cliffs Highway project in the early 1990s, it was the same guy, Steve Creamer, who pushed the engineering on that road via an intense lobbying effort with the Utah State Legislature. So this project, with Creamer at the helm of sPower, just doesn’t set well with me. Here’s the link to the main story I did on Latigo:


  5. Bill Boyle
    February 10, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    We are clearly talking past each other. The core of my issue with your article is that you created a quote, out of broad cloth, of what I “really” said. It is not what I intended, not what I said, and not what I believe. In today’s letter, while I believe that you mischaracterize my comments at R&F (I am not nearly that “erudite”), at least you didn’t put them in quotes.
    There are a wide range of opinions, both in San Juan County and far away, about the Latigo project, about federal subsidies, about the appropriate use of private and public land, and about life in general. I have no problem with the diversity of opinion that is held on what are very divisive issues.
    I hoped to have a paper where local issues could be discussed, where a wide range of opinions could be expressed, and where I would not compromise journalistic integrity. You clearly believe that I am compromised. That is particularly painful since I have actively sought to add your voice to the SJR mix.
    As you know, it is a challenge to cover news in a community where you are also a member of the community. My decision is to “under report” the news on projects I am personally involved in. That can clearly create problems.
    For instance, I am painfully aware of the disappointment that the school district feels with my sparse coverage of school issues. But I am a member of the school board and did not want to use the SJR as a “bully pulpit” to support my position.
    In addition, there have been several school stories that I simply could not write because of my position. They relate to legal, personnel and other “proprietary” matters. That is a reality I face for choosing to run and serve as an elected official.
    Many members of my faith believe that the coverage of church issues in the SJR is sparse. Once again, I did not want to use the SJR as a “pulpit” to support my position.
    As you know, I have been very involved in the Canyon Country Discovery Center for the past 15 years. While I am an avid supporter of the Discovery Center, I did not want to use the SJR to unfairly support the project.
    As a result, I made several decision that impacted my coverage of the project. The decisions relate to editorial support, to news coverage, and to my writers and columnists.
    While there have been a few occasions over the years where I responded to letters about the project, I have not used the editorial side of the SJR to support the project.
    Rather than a breathless weekly update on everything that happened on the project, I decided to run very occasional press releases about the project in the news portion of the paper. The news stories about the Discovery Center over the past 15 years have generally been few and far between.
    In addition, there have been several news stories that I simply could not write because of my position. They relate to financial and other “proprietary” matters. That is a reality I face for choosing to serve on the board of a non-profit entity.
    Of course, my columnists are free to pursue their topics. I was very pleased when both you and Buckley Jensen wrote stories about the Discovery Center. You both completed research independent of me and both wrote a series of stories. The stories ran as submitted, with no editing for content. Buckley’s stories were generally supportive of the project and your stories were generally against the project. Fair enough. I feel that we have been able to present a range of views.
    Don’t forget that a press release and your story regarding funding of the Canyon Country Discovery Center ran in the pages of the San Juan Record. It is a story that I could not write.
    The targets are moving, the issues are evolving and confusion often reigns. I fail miserably on many occasions, and may be in the throes of self-rationalization and denial, but I do my best to be consistent. My apologies if that fits into the broad brush of hypocrisy.

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