Though I have been in solar energy since 2007, I am making the surprising suggestion that public policy should no longer subsidize renewable energy. With some help from tax credits, solar and wind power have blossomed and now compete successfully with traditional power. As a climate solution, however, this is not enough.

While renewable energy is fortunately here to stay, the scale of the climate crisis is far larger than subsidies aimed at virtuous renewable industries can address. We need to reduce the amount of carbon that we are emitting into the atmosphere, dramatically and soon, from fossil fuels for all purposes, not just energy generation. Transportation, heating and manufacturing need to be addressed, too. We need to change our behaviors in support of this goal.

The most effective way to change our behaviors is for the public sector to put a price on the problem. Government does not need to promote expensive subsidies for the few who can build and afford solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies. At the same time, we certainly do not need a tariff on solar panels that helps no one and just makes solar more expensive.

We need a bigger, bolder policy for all. Indeed, we are sending the wrong message if we continue to subsidize fossil fuels while allowing carbon emissions to proliferate for free.

Over 3,500 economists have signed on to a recommendation that we start a national carbon tax on all fossil fuels. They include thinkers and leaders from both parties. And the best approach would be to combine this with a job-creating sharing of all the revenue raised from fossil fuel companies with every American – equally. Here in Maine, this approach is referred to as “Carbon Cash Back 4 ME.”

The bedrock of the U.S. economy is consumer spending. A carbon fee will press down on the use of carbon-emitting sources, and a dividend of all the revenue returned equally to everyone with a Social Security number will boost consumer spending. It is estimated this will generate over 2 million new jobs in short order.


Companies do not need additional complex regulations, and they don’t need a big department in D.C. to tell them what to do. If government does its job by setting a price for every ton of carbon coming out of the ground, consumers and thousands of businesses will figure out quickly how to adapt to lower their carbon footprint. And they will have freedom of choice over how they will do so. If the price per ton gets set by law to grow incrementally every year, with the dividends paid to every American, that will be the key for the entire economy to innovate and work in favor of reducing carbon pollution.

I am convinced that the most effective tool in support of clean skies is a carbon fee on all fossil fuels combined with a dividend paid out to all Americans, a proposal that now has 87 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, and, more immediately, is also part of the budget reconciliation bill now making its way through Congress.

To our friends in renewable energy industries, keep up the good work. Join us, and if we can pass this big solution, you will gain even more business without looking self-centered. For more information, find Business Climate Leaders or Citizens Climate Lobby.

David Kunhardt of Scarborough is a retired co-founder and president of SolEd Benefit Corp., a California Benefit Corporation, and volunteers with Citizens Climate Lobby.

Editor’s note: The headline on this Forum was corrected Nov. 19 to reflect the writer’s position that he advocates for a national carbon tax, not a state carbon tax. 

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