“I love money,” says a corporate raider played by Danny DeVito in the opening line of the 1991 film Other People’s Money. His brief soliloquy on the virtues of money ends with a confession that there’s one thing he loves more: “Other people’s money!”
For most of its first eight decades, Florida Power and Light (FPL) was a traditional power company. But this had changed by 2010, when FPL rebranded itself as NextEra Energy. In addition to generating power the old-fashioned way with nuclear and hydrocarbon fuels, NextEra had discovered how to make money selling electricity generated from other people’s money.
The King of Green Power
A June 2018 Wall Street Journal analysis crowned NextEra the “Global King of Green Power” and “a renewable-energy Goliath using tax subsidies to help finance projects around the country.” The NextEra of 2018, according to the Journal, was still operating “the Florida utility that was its roots, but now derives about a third of its revenue from building renewable-energy projects.”
NextEra’s new revenue stream didn’t rely on the actual market value of the supposedly “green” energy, but instead on an artificial value mandated by politics. The newspaper explained that NextEra sold its politically correct power to other utilities that needed to “procure power from green sources to meet state mandates.”
“It’s a milestone for renewable energy in the U.S.: A solar and wind power provider topped ExxonMobil as America’s most valuable energy company,” crowed CBS News in early October 2020. This was a typical example of regime media buzz about the news that NextEra’s market value had briefly eclipsed mighty Exxon.
According to corporate welfare watchdog Good Jobs First, from 2009 through 2016 NextEra vacuumed in nearly $2.4 billion in outright federal subsidies and grants, another $3.1 billion in federal loan assistance, and almost $160 million more in goodies from state and local taxpayers.
In July 2022, energy journalist Robert Bryce wrote that NextEra was “the world’s biggest producer of renewable energy” and had squirreled away a reserve of nearly $4.3 billion in “federal tax credit carry-forwards” from wind energy subsidies “that it can use to reduce its future tax liabilities.”
Politicians were forking over lots of other people’s money to help build NextEra’s wind and solar infrastructure. Governments were forcing customers to buy the electricity produced. NextEra was pocketing the profits.
It sure should have been a license to print money.
And it looked like more good times ahead for NextEra on September 6, 2022, shortly after passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), when a Bank of America analyst predicted the corporation would be the “biggest winner” from the IRA and “the best-positioned company in our universe” to gorge itself on what Goldman Sachs has estimated to be a $1.2 trillion trough of climate welfare bucks. A Morgan Stanley analyst agreed, saying the IRA was purpose built for “faster wind, storage, and battery storage growth.”
Both predicted a future stock price increase that would mean a multi-billion-dollar increase in the market capitalization of NextEra.
But by early October 2023, almost perfectly three years after NextEra briefly topped ExxonMobil’s market cap, the petroleum firm had more than caught up. ExxonMobil hadn’t merely grown bigger than NextEra: It had become four times more valuable.
Exxon’s stock price was hovering near a record high in October 2023, and NextEra’s total value had fallen way down. The supposedly “clean” and “green” Goliath’s weather-restricted power division was the main driver of the decline.
There were a lot of messy details behind the production of “clean” energy.
Messy “Clean” Energy
In April 2022, a NextEra subsidiary pleaded guilty to violating the federal migratory bird protection law. The supposedly “green” energy firm admitted to the U.S. Department of Justice that 50 of its wind turbine facilities were responsible for killing at least 150 golden and bald eagles. For this, the company was sentenced to five years of probation, $8 million in fines and restitution, and a requirement to implement a plan to prevent future eagle deaths that could cost an additional $27 million.
NextEra is capable of generating carbon-free electricity without killing eagles and does so quietly at nuclear reactors in Florida, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. The firm’s traditional Florida Power and Light division reported nuclear was used to generate 21 percent of its total power in 2022.
In addition to chewing up no eagles, NextEra’s nukes also chew up far less environment. A Nuclear Energy Institute report showed that a typical 1,000 megawatt (MW) nuclear plant needs just 1.3 square miles to operate. But getting the same energy output from far less reliable wind farms requires 260 to 360 square miles.
That’s a lot of land. Put together, all five boroughs of New York City occupy 305 square miles.
Power plants fueled by natural gas also do not kill eagles. Most of FPL’s 2022 electricity—71 percent—was produced from natural gas. Modern natural gas power plants emit just half the carbon dioxide as coal-fired power plants. And natural gas plants need even less space than those land-frugal nuclear reactors, let alone the voracious land-hogging wind turbines.
Robert Bryce wrote:
150 dead eagles would be crime enough. But the actual number of eagles and other birds that are being killed by the wind industry every year is far higher. The DOJ’s prosecution only focuses on NextEra’s operations in eight states and it only counts the bird carcasses that have been found and determined to have been killed by turbines. That tally doesn’t include the tens of thousands of turbines operated by other companies. Furthermore, biologists don’t search the areas around wind turbines every day, and many of the birds killed by turbines are carried away by scavengers.
He might have added that NextEra’s $35 million in federal fines and abatement mandates represented a mere cost of doing business for a firm that had scooped up billions from taxpayers to build the otherwise needless wind turbines.
NextEra’s website also boasts that its “33 universal-scale solar projects generate more than 2,000 MW of electricity.” These also have land-use and creature-killing concerns.
For example, NextEra is the co-owner of the Desert Sunlight solar facility, which sits on 4,100 acres (6.4 square miles). According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, this is one of the two largest solar projects in the United States. Yet the institute shows that it would require between six and 10 facilities the size of Desert Sunlight (or 38 to 64 square miles) “to equal the annual output of the average nuclear reactor” (which covers just 1.3 square miles).
Desert Sunlight did not open until February 2015. But by November 2013 at least 16 marsh birds and migratory waterfowl had already fatally smashed into its panels. More than a year earlier, the National Parks Conservation Association had singled out Desert Sunlight as one of three projects in the nation that raised concerns regarding wildlife conflicts: “Located only 2 miles from the south side of Joshua Tree National Park, this project will also potentially interfere with wildlife migration routes, especially for desert bighorn sheep, and it will impair the view from wilderness lands within the national park.”
In January 2013, just one month after it went online, a NextEra wind facility in California made its first confirmed kill of a golden eagle. In October 2011, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club sued, citing the potential for the wind turbines to kill California condors.
Many more wind and solar projects have been installed over the ensuing decade, increasing the potential for killing big raptors (as well as bats and many migratory birds). And evidence has grown over the past year showing that offshore wind projects are likely responsible for a big spike in deaths of North Atlantic right whales, “one of the world’s most endangered large whale species,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In the next installment, the biggest “green” groups have ironically become unwavering supporters of renewable energy, despite its massive footprint and the accompanying destruction of wildlife.