Fact Check

Utah State professor brings misinformation campaign to Michigan, Colorado

Utah State professor brings misinformation campaign to Michigan, Colorado
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The former Koch Professor Randy Simmons continues to push out error-ridden, cookie-cutter reports attacking renewable energy.

Simmons is seemingly undeterred by the facts, as well as the embarrassment of his false claims being debunked by major national media outlets including Newsweek, the Washington Post, Politico, and most recently the New York Times. His latest attacks target Michigan and Colorado, though those attacks rely almost entirely on recycled material from his three previously debunked attacks in other states.

Michigan

Simmons’s Michigan report contains zero new analysis, but rather simply repeats verbatim the statistical trick used in his Kansas, North Carolina, and Ohio reports.

Simmons’s trick relies on the coincidence that many states passed renewable standards around the time that the global economy collapsed in late 2008 to blame the renewable policies for causing that collapse. This obvious example of the “correlation equals causality” fallacy results in absurd claims, such as that in some states renewable policies were somehow responsible for causing economic collapses that occurred years prior to the passage of the renewable policies.

The claimed economic impact of these renewable policies is also patently absurd, further indicating Simmons is capturing the impact of the global financial collapse and not renewable policies.

For example, in the Michigan report, Simmons claims that the state obtaining a small share of its electricity from renewable energy somehow caused a 9.6 percent increase in the unemployment rate and the loss of $4,000 per family. He never investigates the obvious possibility that those impacts might instead be the result of the global financial collapse that occurred just before Michigan passed its renewable policy in October 2008.

Colorado

Most of the Colorado report repeats the financial crisis trick discussed above, though we won’t bother debunking it for a fifth time as Simmons is, again, clearly undeterred by the facts.

The second part of the Colorado report repeats a trick Simmons used in his Ohio report. Like his Kansas and North Carolina attacks, he begins by using slightly out-of-date information on the cost of wind energy to claim that wind is more expensive than other energy sources. As we showed in previous states, using current wind cost information from real-world market prices in Simmons’s analysis shows that wind energy actually saves consumers money, creates jobs, and stimulates the economy, and the same is true for Colorado. Like in those other states, Simmons is also unable to explain why his cost impact estimates are directly contradicted by strictly-enforced provisions in state renewable policies designed to protect ratepayers.

In the Ohio and Colorado reports Simmons then compounds that error by also using 2008 data on the cost of wind energy, apparently on the guess that even though wind energy purchase costs have might somehow reverse that trend and increase by 65% by the 2020s, despite all mainstream projections showing continued cost declines for wind and increasing costs for fossil fuels. Again, using Simmons’s method with current wind cost data shows wind providing substantial consumer savings, job creating, and economic benefits for Colorado, Michigan, Kansas, North Carolina, and Ohio.

The Colorado paper uses a new trick to further understate the economic benefits of wind energy. Citing a debunked report by the Koch-backed Reason Foundation, Simmons claims that 10-30 percent of wind energy is lost and not used to displace fossil generation, making the benefits of wind energy appear far smaller than reality.

This claim misrepresents how the power system works by confusing reserve capacity and energy, ignores the reality dictated by the laws of physics that every MWh of wind energy must displace a MWh of fossil generation, and is directly contradicted by real-world data and comprehensive analysis demonstrating wind energy achieves 99.8 percent of the expected reductions in fossil fuel use and emissions once all impacts on the power system are accounted for (not 70-90 percent as claimed by Reason Foundation without support). Like the other tricks revealed above, the impact of this flaw in the Colorado report is to greatly understate the real-world economic benefits of wind energy.

Fact checkers weigh in

The good news is that the public and several fact checkers – including the Washington Post – are taking note of the former Koch professor’s misrepresentations.

The Post recently called out Newsweek’s failure to fact check an Institute opinion piece authored by Randy Simmons, the Institute’s Executive Director. Simmons’s Newsweek column was riddled with errors and inaccurate data, and did not disclose his financial ties to special interest groups actively opposing the growth of renewable energy. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman even used his New York Times column to highlight Simmons as a poster child for fossil fuel industry misinformation campaigns against clean energy.

Simmons isn’t the only one to get caught using special interest money to attack renewable energy. At the University of Kansas, a records request revealed that a lecturer who had provided analysis and testimony attacking renewable energy had taken large sums of money from special interests that oppose renewable energy. These types of special interests have used that practice at other universities at well. Koch Industries for example provided $750,000 to the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University that prepared the flawed analysis that was featured in Simmons’s Colorado, Ohio, North Carolina, and Kansas reports.

Following the tarnishing of his name, Simmons’s colleague Ryan Yonk and others have increasingly taken over the job of traveling from state to state spreading their anti-renewable energy misinformation. Given the latest two reports, Simmons seems intent to bring his misinformation campaign to more states, taking advantage of unsuspecting policy makers unaware that identical attacks have now been debunked in five other states.

Amusingly, Simmons’s institute has now added a Q&A to its web page that actually brings up questions about the organization’s special interest group funding and the debunkings of its previous attacks, though they are unable to offer a satisfactory answer to those questions. Simmons may have changed his name, but he hasn’t changed his tricks.

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Fact Check

Michael Goggin is Vice President at Grid Strategies LLC, a DC-area consulting firm working on grid and markets issues for clean energy clients including AWEA. He was previously head of Research at AWEA.

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