Sunday, February 3, 2013

Margaret Wente’s “Big Wind”: another error?

In her latest column against sustainable energy, Margaret Wente writes that, “Big Wind is among the biggest lobbyists in Washington”. 

She provides nothing to support a claim that appears to be false.  Here’s a list of the 20 biggest lobbyists in Washington from the Center for Responsive Politics.  Topping it is the US Chamber of Commerce which spent $136 million on lobbying in 2012, followed by a variety of sectors like Real Estate, Pharmaceuticals, Blue Cross, Oil, and Communications.  “Big Wind” is nowhere “among the biggest lobbyists in Washington”.

The same body notes that, “Until 2008, AWEA (American Wind Energy Association) failed to crack the $1 million mark in annual lobbying expenditures -- and most years, it spent less than $500,000.”  
According to Business Pundit, which lists “10 of the biggest lobbies” in Washington, Tech (at “$120 million” - Google alone doled out $20 million for lobbying in 2012), Big Oil (“$150 million”), Agribusiness (“$150 million”), Financial (“hundreds of millions”), Big Pharma, Defense, Mining, and AARP all dwarf the pitiful lobbying dollars of wind power.  Even the NRA and the Pro Israel lobbies are larger.
In 2009, lobbying by the American Wind Energy Association did increase dramatically to $5 million and then dropped back down to about $2 million in recent years.  A report from January 2013 in the Washington Free Beacon confirms this, noting that,  The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) spent more than $2.1 million in 2012, a 61 percent increase from the $1.5 million it spent the previous year.”
It’s not clear what Ms. Wente means by “Big Wind”. Aside from the industry organization, many individual wind energy companies’ lobbying expenses were so miniscule they fell below the threshold for reporting, but if she is referring to Nextera (which she mentions in her article), her claim is also incorrect. 

Nextera, formerly Florida Power and Light and now one of the largest providers of wind energy, spent about $5 million in lobbying last year.  But as wind makes up about half of the company’s power portfolio (the rest includes gas, nuclear, hydro, solar and others), it would be equally erroneous for Ms. Wente to claim that this company is the “Big Wind” lobby.   Half of $5 million is about equivalent to the amount spent by the American Wind Energy Association and is still dwarfed by any one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of lobbyists in Washington who spend many, many times that amount.

Perhaps Ms. Wente meant to say that “Big Wind” or Nextera was one of the biggest electric utility lobbyists in Washington.  But this wouldn’t be true either.  It’s lobbying constituted only about one third of the nearly $16 million spent by the largest electric utilities last year, and if one subtracts the non-wind percentage of its holdings, it drops out of the top ten utility lobbyists altogether. 

By any measure, $2 million represents a tiny fraction of what the “biggest lobbyists in Washington” spent last year.  So unless Ms. Wente can provide sources and facts to support her claim, it should be corrected.  

As for her claim that Nextera paid no income tax, Ms. Wente omits to mention that there are dozens of other companies, like Verizon and Boeing, who, due to U.S. tax structure, are in a similar position.

In addition to a significant number of past plagiarism and attribution problems, Margaret Wente has engaged in previous misrepresentations of environmental issues, from nearly doubling the number of polar bears in Canada (to support her claim that they’re not at risk), to her claims about electric cars.  One might also ask whether, when writing about energy issues, it might be appropriate to disclose her longstanding position on the board of Energy Probe.

According to its wikipedia page, “Energy Probe is a non-governmental environmental policy organization based in Toronto and best known for its role in opposing nuclear power,[1][2][3] and as a free-market lobbyist for fossil fuels[4] and well-known Canadian proponent of climate change denial.”


  1. maybe Big Wind refers to all the blowhard lobbyists...??

  2. margaret wente is a dishonest shallow hack...not sure how she manages to churn out what she does without feeling humiliated amongst her learned friends that she constantly refers to:P

  3. Please have a look at another site that's reviewing this article.

  4. Perhaps Big Wind is the new name for Wente's column and they're just not through focus-grouping it yet.

    Please continue your work, Prof. Wainio. You're showing the Globe for the empty vessel that it is.

  5. Ah, who cares? The only people doing real research in journalism anymore are amateurs. All professionals do anymore is attribute quotes and re-write press releases.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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