The electric utility anti-rooftop solar playbook


Many groups see an enemy in homeowners installing rooftop solar power.

Now, the Environment America Research & Policy Center, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and Frontier Group released a report which unmasks the organizations who have been attacking rooftop solar and describes the techniques they’ve employed.

The paper, Blocking Rooftop Solar, includes seven case studies from around the nation exposing the specific actions taken, which sometimes were illegal, and quite often were manipulative.

The four organizations named in the report include:

  • Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade group that represents United States investor-owned electric utilities. It developed the model utilities use in attacking solar at the state level.
  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nationwide organization funded in part by anti-solar interests including major utilities, fossil fuel companies, and affiliated lobbying groups.
  • The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a Houston-based front group for the utility and fossil fuel industry, representing companies like Florida Power & Light, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell Oil.
  • The Koch organization, which has provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonprofits. The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has carried out extensive anti-solar organizing efforts.

It should be noted that it was an EEI executive who expressed the group’s fear of net metering in a report by the NYTimes:

“Years ago, I think a lot of people said, ‘[Net metering is] not going to come to our area. And now we see it in each and every state. E.E.I. is happy to come to any state at any time, we have two dozen states we are working on.”

By “working on” the organization meant funding political campaigns, writing new legislation, and in general pulling out all the stops in an effort to destroy rooftop solar.

At the heart of the document are seven case studies outlining the groups’ most nefarious stunts, including Ameren’s “fake math,” FirstEnergy and an Ohio political scandal, and Florida Power & Light in an act of “political jiu jitsu.”

In the case of FPL and political jiu jitsu, this author has conflicting emotions. FPL’s parent company – NextEra – is among the world’s largest renewable asset owners, and is pushing some of the most advanced projects in the industry.

Unfortunately, however, it’s not always sunny in Florida, as the study pointed out.

FPL donates tens of millions of dollars to politicians across the state during election years. Whether elections or legislation related to energy are up for a vote, the company will still “donate” millions while employing “90-100 lobbyists, more than one for every two state senators.”

And in 2016, the company – along with the broader political-energy industry – revealed their disdain for the common person.

A group of companies, including FPL, contributed $26 million to a front group for an amendment designed to trick consumers into voting against net metering for solar power. And while a skeptic might argue that the motives for this political action were not known, some great investigative reporting from the Miami Herald exposed the shady intentions behind the legislation:

“To the degree that we can use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu and take what they’re kind of pinning us on and use it to our benefit either in policy, in legislation or in constitutional referendums — if that’s the direction you want to take — use the language of promoting solar, and kind of, kind of put in these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop.”

The trick occurring here is that the electricity utilities believe they can word legislation in a certain way to trick voters into believing that a solar law is good for them. And since solar is generally quite popular – carrying a lot of weight in the public mind – by calling your group “Consumers for Smart Solar” means you can use that weight (a fundamental technique of jiu jitsu) against the best interests of the general public.

The law failed, but the corporate beast never sleeps.

In what may be the most egregious of all recent actions taken by an electricity utility, it is Ohio that has born the brunt of monopoly power and large volumes of money.

Let’s remember that it was an Ohio coal baron who most famously hugged a disgraced public servant at the Department of Energy, before presenting the government with a fossil supporting honey-do list. This coal baron later died of black lung disease, applying for the same benefits shortly before his death that he had attempted to deny from his employees throughout his career.

The above image is a flyer which was distributed to Ohio voters as part of a campaign to push a piece of legislation called HB-6. The main goals of HB-6 were to gut renewable energy requirements before eliminating them entirely after 2026, while also bailing out four failing coal and nuclear facilities to the tune of $1 billion.

Some have suggested that it is “the worst energy bill of the 21st century.”

As it turned out, in order to get that legislation passed, the electricity utility spent over $61 million to bribe various state politicians. The FBI raided multiple high level officials’ homes and offices, and multiple individuals have pled guilty to related charges.

Among those charged is the now former Speaker of the Ohio House, Larry Householder, who was indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering.

In a small victory, portions of HB-6 have recently been repealed. However, as a reminder that there is no rest for the wicked, the coal power plant incentives – to the tune of tens of millions per year – are still in place.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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