Rooftop solar groups ask FERC to stop utilities from charging customers for anti-solar advocacy


The Center for Biological Diversity has asked federal energy regulators to stop utilities from charging customers for their payments to industry groups that are “undermining the renewable energy transition.” The practice “violates ratepayers’ First Amendment rights,” the Center said.

The Center made the request in a letter to commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and in comments in a FERC proceeding. Rooftop solar advocacy groups Vote Solar, Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Solar United Neighbors signed on to the letter.

It is “common” among utilities to charge ratepayers for “hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of dollars” of utility dues to the industry association Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the Center said in its comments. In one example, the Center said that EEI ran a multi-day training session for utility executives to learn how to defeat state and local clean energy policies, citing research by the Energy and Policy Institute. EEI has an annual budget of about $90 million.

The Harvard Electricity Law Initiative said in comments to FERC that EEI has “opposed net metering rules or bills through social media campaigns that have targeted people in Maine, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Kentucky.” In Arizona and Michigan, the Initiative said, utilities have “more directly funded campaigns against various net metering proposals, or have primed the public to oppose policies favorable to rooftop solar.”

Also submitting comments supporting a change in FERC policy were the attorneys general of Michigan, Massachusetts, and Virginia, and the Louisiana Public Service Commission, said attorney Jessica Bell on Twitter.

FERC initiated its proceeding to seek comment on the recovery and reporting of industry dues and expenses, in response to a March 2021 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

EEI and three other trade associations “simply declined to respond” to the “specific questions” FERC had asked them in the proceeding, said Ari Peskoe, director of Harvard’s initiative, on Twitter.

If FERC made the rule change requested by rooftop solar advocates, investor-owned utilities could still fund anti-solar advocacy, but only at the expense of their shareholders, not their customers.

Of FERC’s five commissioners, currently three are Democrats and two are Republicans.

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