How the Koch Brothers and Big Energy Groups Are Waging War on Solar
October 12, 2015
EcoWatch & Environment America
While American solar power has increased four-fold since 2010, state by state, utilities and powerful industry front groups have begun chipping away at key policies that helped spur this solar boom. The Koch brothers, Duke Energy and Arizona Public Service are among 12 special interest groups waging anti-solar campaigns across the country, often coordinated and behind the scenes, according to a new Environment America Research and Policy Center report.
Koch Brothers and 11 Other
Special Interest Groups Wage War on Solar
(October 9, 2015) -- The Koch brothers, Duke Energy and Arizona Public Service are among 12 special interest groups waging aggressive anti-solar campaigns across the country, often coordinated and behind the scenes, a new Environment America Research and Policy Center report said today.
While American solar power has increased four-fold since 2010, state by state, utilities and powerful industry front groups have begun chipping away at key policies that helped spur this solar boom, according to the analysis, "Blocking the Sun: 12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power."
"Fossil-fuel interests and their allies have been using the same playbook to undermine solar power across the country," said Bret Fanshaw, the solar program coordinator for Environment America. "And they've largely been operating in the shadows."
The playbook: a national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks provides funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns. The report examines five of these major national players -- Edison Electric Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Koch brothers and their front group Americans for Prosperity, Heartland Institute and Consumer Energy Alliance.
Then, in state after state, electric utilities use the support provided by these national anti-solar interests, supplemented by their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies. The report features seven utilities -- Arizona Public Service, Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Berkshire Hathaway Industries, Salt River Project, FirstEnergy and We Energies.
"We found that most attacks on solar energy happen behind closed doors in utility agencies or in dense regulatory filings -- away from public view," said Gideon Weissman of the Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "That's probably because they're aimed at very popular policies that give regular consumers the chance to go solar."
Charles and David Koch have an enormous financial stake in the fossil fuel industry through their company Koch Industries and its many subsidiaries. Koch Industries alone operates around 4,000 miles of pipeline, along with oil refineries in Alaska, Minnesota and Texas.
Through its front group Americans for Prosperity and funding to other like-minded entities, the Koch brothers have attacked solar laws in several states including Florida, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.
Utilities like Arizona Public Service augment resources from interests like the Kochs to forward an anti-solar agenda. Arizona Public Service admitted to funding anti-solar ads by 60 plus, a national Koch-backed front group that purports to represent seniors and it has been accused of improper influence with the Arizona Corporation Commission.
"I've seen first-hand how some energy monopolies have used money in campaigns to intimidate and manipulate policy makers and elected officials," said Rep. Ken Clark, a state representative from Arizona who has pushed Arizona Public Service to disclose its political spending. "Aside from the question of renewable energy, this activity has become a threat to our electoral system."
Arizona Public Service's latest stealth move against solar has been to withdraw its request to raise fees on solar owners until the commission completes a study that would only examine costs and not benefits, of the resource.
In Florida, where solar capacity is far beneath its potential, Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and Duke Energy, the largest utility in the US, have teamed up to block pro-solar policies. Duke Energy spent heavily to help re-elect Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned against a state renewable electricity standard.
Americans for Prosperity has mobilized its members and waged an aggressive ad campaign against a ballot initiative to expand rooftop solar by allowing third-party sales of panels. Duke Energy has also contributed to that effort.
The anti-solar coalition Consumers for Smart Solar, backed by Americans for Prosperity, Duke Energy and others, has now put forward a competing ballot measure in Florida to undermine the rooftop solar amendment.
"By wide margins, Americans support pro-solar policies," said Fanshaw. "That's why fossil fuel interests and their front groups have resorted to shady and deceptive tactics to undermine them. Ultimately it will be up to state leaders to reject these attacks and support a clean energy future."
Blocking the Sun
12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power
Environment America Report (PDF)
(October 8, 2015) -- Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people. Since 2010, America's solar energy capacity has grown more than four-fold, generating increasing amounts of clean energy at increasingly affordable prices.
America's solar progress is largely the result of bold, forward-thinking public policies that have created a strong solar industry while putting solar energy within the financial reach of millions more Americans.
Behind the scenes, however, electric utilities, fossil fuel interests and powerful industry front groups have begun chipping away at the key policies that have put solar energy on the map in the United States -- often in the face of strong objections from a supportive public.
This report documents 12 fossil fuel backed groups and electric utilities that are running some of the most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in the United States. Citizens and policy-makers must be aware of the tools self-interested parties are using to undermine solar energy across America -- and redouble their commitment to strong policies that move the nation toward a clean energy future.
A national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks is providing funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns across the country.
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) , the trade group that represents US investor-owned electric utilities, launched the current wave of anti-solar advocacy with a 2012 conference warning utilities of the challenges solar energy posed to their traditional profit centers.
Since then, EEI has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and ran an anti-solar public relations campaign in Arizona.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislatures, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in states like Washington and Utah.
The Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonprofits. One Koch front group, 60 Plus, ran a TV and internet anti-net metering campaign in Arizona.
The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) carries out anti-solar energy organizing efforts. In Florida and Georgia, AFP has run misinformation campaigns against net metering and other solar policies.
The Heartland Institute, a think tank with backing from the fossil fuel industry, helped draft the language for ALEC's "Electricity Freedom Act," and has spread misleading information about the impacts of solar energy.
The Consumer Energy Alliance is a Houston-based front group for the fossil fuel industry, representing fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell Oil. In Wisconsin in 2013, CEA submitted 2,500 dubious signatures in support of a utility rate case to increase costs for solar customers.
At the state level, electric utilities have used the support provided by national anti-solar interests, as well as their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies.
As part of its campaign to discourage rooftop solar power, Arizona Public Service, the biggest utility in Arizona, has funneled money through nonprofit groups in order to fund anti-net metering advertisements and has been accused of improperly cultivating influence with the state commission that regulates utilities.
Duke Energy, the largest utility in the US, has positioned itself through investments in utility-scale solar plants to be seen as a champion of solar energy -- all while spending millions on campaign contributions to keep anti-solar politicians in office in Florida and lobbying against third party solar agreements in North Carolina.
American Electric Power (AEP) has backed anti-solar campaigns in states including Ohio and West Virginia. In West Virginia, AEP successfully lobbied for a bill to limit the net metering cap to 3 percent of utility peak demand.
In Utah and Nevada, subsidiaries of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Energy are running active campaigns to halt the growth of solar power. In Nevada, subsidiary NV Energy has lobbied to prevent the raising of Nevada's net metering cap. With Nevada solar power on track to reach the cap limit in early 2016, a stagnant cap could damage the state solar power industry.
The Salt River Project, a public utility in Arizona, passed perhaps the most damaging anti-solar provision in the country: a demand charge for solar customers that will increase utility bills by an average of $50 per month, which has all but killed the growth of rooftop solar in the utility's territory. The passage of the fee was based in part on an internal SRP analysis that was criticized for failing to account for solar energy's value to the grid and to the environment.
In Ohio, FirstEnergy led the fight to make Ohio the first state in the country to freeze its renewable energy standard -- resulting in annual private investment in Ohio solar energy dropping by more than $100 million. FirstEnergy has also sustained a series of regulatory attacks against Ohio net metering policy.
We Energies, Wisconsin's largest utility, has submitted a nearly continuous stream of proposals to the Wisconsin Public Services Commission (PSC) to halt the growth of solar, including proposals to limit net metering and to impose surcharges on solar owners.
In mid-2015, at least 21 states had either ongoing or recently resolved proceedings around policies to slow the growth of solar energy, primarily in the form of new limitations to net metering or new charges to make rooftop solar power less economically viable. State decision-makers should resist utility and fossil fuel industry influence, and reject policies like:
* Restrictions or unfair caps on net metering;
* Discriminatory surcharges or tariffs for solar customers;
* Unnecessary regulatory burdens on solar energy; and
* Rollbacks of renewable electricity standards.
In addition, state leaders can do more to encourage solar energy's growth. They should embrace ambitious goals for solar energy and adopt policies that will help meet them, including:
* Considering the benefits to the grid, all ratepayers and society of distributed solar power in any ratemaking or policy decisions about solar;
* Implementing strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power;
* Encouraging community shared solar projects and virtual net metering, which can expand solar access to more customers;
* Enacting or expanding solar or distributed renewable carve-outs and renewable electricity standards;
* Allowing companies other than utilities to sell or lease solar to residents and businesses;
* Making smart investments to move toward a more intelligent electric grid that will enable distributed sources of energy such as solar power play a larger role; and
* Utilizing solar energy wherever possible on government buildings and properties.
* Solar power should also play a significant role in states' plans to meet or exceed the requirements of the Clean Power Plan.
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