Fake Conservatives

Don’t be fooled by the Minnesota ‘Conservative’ Energy Forum.

Ronald Reagan once quipped, “It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”

The Gipper wasn’t talking about the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum (MnCEF), a group that takes money from liberal foundations to mislead conservatives on energy issues, but the quote still applies.

You see, election night in 2020 went poorly for those hoping to implement a Minnesota version of the Green New Deal.

Republicans held on to the State Senate by one seat, and two DFLers on the Iron Range, Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni, split away from other DFL senators to form an independent caucus. Republicans also picked up five seats in the House of Representatives, which whittled away at the DFL majority.

These developments should rule out Governor Walz’s proposed 100 percent wind, solar, and battery storage mandate for the next two years…unless Republicans vote to approve it.

While this isn’t likely, it also isn’t totally out of the question. Some Republican lawmakers who are good conservatives on issues like taxes and regulation are eager, even desperate, for a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, and they often see voting for liberal energy and environmental policies that increase the use of wind and solar as their ticket to balancing out their voting record. Unfortunately, they see capitulating to environmental interest groups—even extreme ones—as an electoral necessity.

In some ways, this desire is understandable. Conservative organizations didn’t meaningfully engage in energy and environmental policy for decades, relying instead on the instinctive skepticism of subsidies and mandates from friendly lawmakers to keep bad energy policies from becoming law.

This hands-off approach backfired badly because it resulted in well-funded liberal organizations filling the general public’s knowledge vacuum with their talking points. Additionally, liberal groups were all too happy to demonize conservatives as “anti-science” or against “the science,” even though many of their own policy prescriptions are as scientifically sound as a poorly written horoscope.

Astrology, folks, is not astronomy.

Asleep at the Wheel

The lack of early engagement from conservatives on these issues also had undeniably negative consequences on the policy front. Then-Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who had his eyes on the Republican nomination for president in 2012, signed Minnesota’s original renewable energy mandate into law in 2007. Since then, electricity prices in Minnesota have risen 23 percent faster than the national average.

The cost of electricity matters more than most people think.

Minnesota’s electricity prices were once 20 percent below the national average, a massive competitive advantage in energy-intensive industries like agriculture, manufacturing, and mining. Such prices also benefited low-income families, who spend a higher percentage of their income keeping the lights on than affluent urbanites and suburbanites.

Today, this advantage has completely evaporated. It is now harder for families to pay their bills and more difficult for Minnesota businesses to compete with companies in other states and countries.

Higher electricity prices—especially when driven by government mandates—are a tax on our quality of life.

Despite rising electricity prices in Minnesota—and rolling blackouts in California that resulted in two million people losing their electricity because the Golden State is overly reliant upon weather-dependent wind and solar—some lawmakers in St. Paul still want to set up Minnesota for the same bleak future.

These lawmakers are prodded along by an armada of wind and solar special interest groups that are funded to the tune of millions of dollars by the liberal Energy Foundation based in San Francisco, California and the McKnight Foundation based in Minnesota.

Among the groups bankrolled by these foundations are: Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Media Matters, the Environmental Defense Fund, Fresh Energy, the anti-mining Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota, Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, and MnCEF.

What Was that Last One?

At first blush, it would appear as if one of these groups is much different from the others. After all, the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum claims to be a voice advocating for conservative energy policy in our state. Its website even contains a quote from Ronald Reagan featured next to a picture of the Gipper.

This prompts the question, why on earth would the Energy Foundation, which supports groups like the Sierra Club that advocate for the Green New Deal and “climate reparations,” provide nearly 86 percent of the funding for a conservative energy group in the Midwest?

The most logical answer to this question is that the polices advocated by MnCEF aren’t conservative, at all.

MnCEF: The Lincoln Project of Energy

To understand why the Energy Foundation would fund MnCEF, it helps to look at how leftist donors funded the Lincoln Project, a group of alleged Republicans who vehemently opposed Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle.

This group of former Republican operatives used the endowment of millions of dollars from Democratic funders to produce attack ads in an effort to defeat Trump.

“As former Republicans, the members of the Lincoln Project believe their ads can destabilize the president and appeal to Trump-skeptical conservatives, giving them room to vote against Trump and for Joe Biden,” Vox wrote in July 2020.

MnCEF exists for the exact same reason, but with an emphasis on energy.

The Energy Foundation and the McKnight Foundation learned long ago increasing renewable subsidies and mandates without the appearance of bipartisan support would be difficult.

Acknowledging this reality, liberal foundations fund AstroTurf conservative groups like MnCEF to make disingenuous political and policy pitches designed to muddy the issue and con Republican lawmakers into believing that mandates make free markets and that liberal regulators will look out for businesses.

What Would Conservative Energy Policy Look Like?

MnCEF obtaining 86 percent of its funding from liberal interest groups should raise red flags for Minnesota conservatives, but where the organization gets its money is ultimately far less important than the policies MnCEF advocates for.

Before we discuss why MnCEF is a liberal-funded front group designed to mislead Minnesota conservatives on energy issues, it helps to take a step back and ask: What issues and stances could we reasonably expect a conservative energy policy organization to focus on, and does MnCEF meet those expectations?

Line 3: One would imagine that support for the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project would be an easy sell for a conservative policy group, given that replacing the pipeline is beneficial for Minnesota’s economy, our environment, and our national security. But MnCEF hasn’t said anything to support the pipeline. One can only speculate that the Energy Foundation wouldn’t like it if MnCEF publicly supported a fossil fuel project that other Energy Foundation-funded groups oppose.

Walz’s California Car Mandates: In September 2019, Governor Walz announced his intent to implement California’s car regulations, which would force car buyers to pay more, make car dealers stock electric cars, and require all new vehicles registered in Minnesota to meet California’s gas mileage standards.

One would assume that an organization that advertises itself as opposed to heavy-handed government mandates would oppose these rules by filing comments, holding public events, testifying at the Capitol on why more mandates are bad for Minnesotans, or even mentioning it once on its website. But unlike Center of the American Experiment, MnCEF didn’t oppose this executive overreach. Other recipients of Energy Foundation dollars have strongly endorsed the California car mandates.

Walz’s and the House DFL’s 100 Percent Carbon-Free Mandate by 2050
In January 2019, Governor Walz announced his desire to sign legislation mandating 100 percent of our electricity come from carbon-free resources by 2050.

However, this legislation did not lift the moratorium on new nuclear power or allow hydropower to be considered “carbon free,” even though it emits no carbon dioxide. This means Walz’s plan would have been an impossibly expensive wind, solar, and battery storage mandate.

There was ample time to testify against this bill when it was before the Minnesota House of Representatives, and American Experiment did so a half dozen times. But MnCEF didn’t.

Clean Energy First

While MnCEF has been conspicuously quiet on the issues we’ve discussed so far, it did testify in support of a bill in the Minnesota Senate called “Clean Energy First,” which would have forced utilities to prioritize carbon dioxide-free power plants when replacing a retiring plant.

While this bill had some good provisions, such as legalizing nuclear, hydro, and carbon capture, the bad outweighed the good because it forced companies to prioritize certain technologies over others—this is the definition of picking energy winners and loser and opposite from the entire point of a free market.

Had this legislation been signed into law, it also would have rubber stamped Xcel Energy’s plan to shut down its coal plants years before the end of their useful lifetimes and build enormous amounts of solar and wind at an incredible expense to Minnesota families and businesses.

Xcel Energy’s Green New Steal

American Experiment’s modeling has shown that Xcel’s proposal would cost the average Xcel Energy customer $1,428 per year, every year through 2051. This is why American Experiment has mobilized thousands of Minnesotans to tell regulators that they oppose Xcel Energy’s Green New Deal.

MnCEF, on the other hand, applauded Xcel’s proposal stating:

The Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum (MnCEF) commends Xcel Energy for its announcement to obtain 80 percent of its electricity from carbon-free resources by 2030, and to be 100 percent carbon free by 2050… Minnesota consumers overwhelmingly support cleaner and cheaper energy, and Xcel’s announcement promotes a diverse energy portfolio.

There’s nothing cheaper about Xcel’s proposed plan. In fact, the company announced on election day that it will be seeking to raise electricity costs by 20 percent over the next three years to pay for building more wind and solar.

Taking money from liberal foundations doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a front group, but failing to advocate for conservative energy policies, while also taking loads of liberal money, certainly does. Now that we’ve made a credible case to support this theory, we can look at how MnCEF leads others astray.

The Bait and Switch: Misleading Grassroots Conservatives

The problem with energy policy is that most people don’t have the time or desire to learn how the electricity they rely upon every second of every day is delivered to their door. They simply expect it to be there at the flip of a switch. Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge leaves many people vulnerable to the sleight-of-hand tactics used by MnCEF.

In May 2019, I gave a presentation on energy policy to a local conservative organization in a southeastern suburb. A week or so later, one of the attendees informed me that MnCEF had requested to speak to the group.

While I was not happy to learn that MnCEF was slated to address the group, I was grateful that the group offered to let me attend MnCEF’s presentation given by MnCEF’s executive director, Adam Seidel.

In the presentation, MnCEF used conservative-sounding buzzwords to trick those with limited energy knowledge, but anyone with knowledge of the energy industry would instantly recognize them as a word salad of incoherent contradictions.

The nearby slide from the presentation (which I took a photo of) helps demonstrate this point by how it lays out MnCEF’s “big picture” focus on energy policy.

The federal government spends billions of dollars subsidizing wind and solar every year, Minnesota law forces us to use them, and government-approved monopoly utilities like Xcel make a government-guaranteed profit when they build wind turbines and solar panels. Wind and solar are not products of a free market; yet, MnCEF suggests they are.

MnCEF pretends to be against renewable energy standards and mandates, but Mr. Seidel testified in support of Clean Energy First and was silent when Walz wanted to pass a Minnesota Green New Deal. According to the slide, MnCEF states it promotes lowering costs but eagerly supports wind and solar, which are responsible for Minnesota’s skyrocketing electricity prices. MnCEF pretends to favor more competition and consumer choice while glad-handing Xcel Energy’s most expensive monopoly practices.

Push Polling Our Politicians

In addition to MnCEF’s misinformation campaign at the grassroots level, the group also seeks to pressure lawmakers into passing bad energy policy by sharing push polls with them behind closed doors at the Capitol to scare them into believing they only have two choices—vote for these policies or incur the wrath of voters on election day.

An example of MnCEF’s polling is below:

Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
“Minnesota should pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy, which means lowering our heavy dependence on fossil fuels over time and allowing an increase in electricity generation from renewable energy sources as well as more energy efficiency, and I support taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy in Minnesota.”

According to MnCEF, 73 percent of Republicans and independent voters agreed with this statement, and given the lack of background information about Minnesota’s current energy needs, cost, or reliability, it is surprising support for the statement wasn’t higher.

The problem with push polls is that they are designed to give the pollster an answer he or she wants rather than accurately reflect public opinion.

While MnCEF’s poll said 73 percent of Republicans and independents agreed with the statement, a pre-election poll from MinnPost found that only 1 percent of likely Trump voters said climate change was a top three issue for them. MnCEF’s attempt to pressure conservatives into supporting more wind and solar mandates isn’t just incorrect, it could be electorally devastating for lawmakers who vote for such mandates in future primary contests.

Conclusion

The biggest lesson Minnesotans should take away from this article is that their voice matters. If you do not tell your lawmakers how to address energy policy, someone from an Energy Foundation-funded group will.

Liberal wind and solar advocates may not be honest about the true cost of renewable energy, but they aren’t stupid, and they understand that the easiest way to get more mandates for renewable energy passed is by misinforming conservative lawmakers and pressuring moderates with push polling.

To many conservatives, this lip service to free markets and competition could seem like a legitimate framework for viewing energy policy, but MnCEF’s talking points are designed to take advantage of the fact that most people do not have an in-depth understanding of energy issues.

Ultimately, where MnCEF’s money comes from is far less important than the policies the group advocates for. These policies, unfortunately, are anything but conservative.