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Context of 'August 14, 2013: Arizona Solar Advocates Push Back against Utility Proposal to Cut Subsidies, Raise Rates on Solar Consumers'

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KochPAC logo.KochPAC logo. [Source: KochPAC (.com)]After their stinging loss during the November 1980 presidential campaign, the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, decide that they need to work to inculcate their brand of hard-right libertarianism into the electorate through indirect means (see 1979-1980). Therefore, they begin spending vast amounts of their personal fortunes on what purport to be independent think tanks and other political or ideological organizations. At the same time, the brothers become political recluses, rarely speaking in public and rarely acknowledging the breadth or the direction of their donations. It is hard to know exactly how much the Kochs spend and where they spend it, though public records give some of the picture. Between 1998 and 2008, Charles Koch’s foundation spends over $48 million on political funding. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, controlled by Charles and his wife, spends over $28 million. David Koch’s foundation spends over $120 million. Koch Industries, controlled primarily by Charles, spends over $50 million on lobbying efforts. Their political action committee, KochPAC, donates around $8 million, almost all of it going to Republicans. In 2010, as in other years, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political donations. The brothers spend over $2 million of their personal fortunes on political donations, almost all of it going to Republicans. Ari Rabin-Havt of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will say that the Kochs’ effort is unusual in its marshalling of corporate and personal funds: “Their role, in terms of financial commitments, is staggering.” Lee Fang, writing for the liberal blog ThinkProgress (an arm of the Center for American Progress), calls the Kochs “the billionaires behind the hate.” Some believe that the Kochs have either skirted, or outright broken, laws controlling tax-exempt giving. Charitable foundations must conduct exclusively nonpartisan activities that promote the public welfare. But in 2004, a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group, describes the Kochs’ foundations as being self-serving, and concludes, “These foundations give money to nonprofit organizations that do research and advocacy on issues that impact the profit margin of Koch Industries.” The Kochs also use their charitable foundations to fund hard-right political organizations that, according to reporter Jane Mayer, “aim to push the country in a libertarian direction,” including: the Institute for Justice, which files lawsuits opposing state and federal regulations; the Institute for Humane Studies, which underwrites libertarian academics; and the Bill of Rights Institute, which promotes a conservative interpretation of the Constitution. David Koch acknowledges that the family exerts tight ideological control. “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent,” he tells a reporter. “And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Institute for Justice, Charles Koch, Bill of Rights Institute, Ari Rabin-Havt, Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, Institute for Humane Studies, Koch Industries, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Jane Mayer, David Koch, Lee Fang, KochPAC

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

60+ logo.60+ logo. [Source: 60 Plus Association]An anti-health care reform television ad designed to frighten seniors into believing that so-called “death panels” will have government officials choosing to terminate them (see August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 10, 2009) is produced by a supposedly “non-partisan seniors advocacy group.” However, in fact the group is led, organized, and funded by senior Republican operatives. The ad says in part that health care reform will, for seniors, “mean long waits for care, cuts to MRIs, CAT Scans, and other vital tests. Seniors may lose their own doctors. The government, not doctors, will decide if older patients are worth the cost.” The organization that produced and released the ad is called the “60 Plus Association,” or “60+,” a registered non-profit organization that claims to be non-partisan. The president of 60+ is Jim Martin, a former official for the National Conservative Action Committee and another group, Americans Against Union Control of Government. The honorary chairman of 60+ is Roger Zion, a former Illinois Republican congressman whom the group’s site calls “one of Washington’s leading spokesman for the conservative cause.” When 60+ began running ads against prescription drug reform a few years ago, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) discovered that, in the organization’s words, “virtually all of their largest contributions in recent years have come from the same source—the nation’s pharmaceutical industry.” John Rother of AARP will confirm that 60+ is “funded primarily by corporate interests, especially pharmaceuticals.” Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, he says that 60+ and other anti-reform groups are specifically targeting seniors. “I don’t think you can look at those commercials and not conclude that seniors are the target of a very intentional scare campaign,” he says. “And many seniors, of course, are worried about change because they depend on Medicare. They are perhaps not in the greatest of health, and they definitely want to know that Medicare will be there, their doctor will be there when they need it. So, change can be a little scary.… It certainly makes me angry because, you know, there are real issues and people should be engaged in this debate. But to scare people, to raise these bogus issues, to intentionally mislead a big part of the population is—you know, it’s a subversion of democracy.” Rother adds: “[W]e’ve looked at this bill and we read every page, we’ve concluded that the bills proposed in the Congress would be good for seniors, would actually help them afford their medications better, make sure that doctors are there when they need them. So, we feel there’s nothing to be scared about in the actual legislation.” In 2003, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer paid 60+ to organize opposition against prescription drug reform in Minnesota and New Mexico. 60+ in turn hired a PR firm, Bonner & Associates, which according to the AARP “specializes in ‘Astroturf lobbying’” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009). Bonner paid employees to call residents of those states and, identifying themselves as volunteers for 60+, urge them to oppose the legislation. 60+ also has ties to former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who directed Native American tribes to donate to 60+ in return for Republican support in Congress. 60+ has also lobbied in favor of approving the storage of nuclear waste at the infamous Yucca Mountain, Nevada, storage site. Maddow says: “[T]he campaign against health care reform in this country is being brought to you by professional, corporate-funded, Republican-staffed political PR operations. In this case, an organization that promotes itself as non-partisan but appears to be anything but. These are professional PR operatives that are scaring real Americans with increasingly paranoid and kooky lies about health care. And they’re getting rich in the process, thanks to the largess of extremely interested parties who are more than willing to pay for their services.” [MSNBC, 8/11/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: John Rother, 60 Plus Association, American Association of Retired Persons, Jim Martin, Roger Zion, Rachel Maddow

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Header from the mailer sent out by 60+, depicting four senior citizens apparently suffering from lack of health care.Header from the mailer sent out by 60+, depicting four senior citizens apparently suffering from lack of health care. [Source: 60+ / Plum Line]The “60 Plus Association” (60+), a conservative anti-health care reform organization, sends out what Washington Post commentator Greg Sargent calls a “brutal” mailer to Nebraska residents, depicting photos of senior citizens apparently suffering from various untreated ailments and making the questionable claim that health care reform would be funded by $500 million in Medicare cuts. 60+ is leading a media push against the Democrats’ reform package by claiming that the government would institute so-called “death panels” (see Shortly Before August 10, 2009). Sargent writes: “This is kind of a new frontier in the scare campaign targeting old folks: It links the prediction of drastic Medicare cuts to the widely-debunked claim that health care reform will lead to mass government euthanasia of the elderly” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009). The mailer repeats the widely discredited claim that the government could deny you treatment even if “you and your doctor insist on them,” and quotes President Obama as saying during one “town hall” forum, “Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.” Sargent notes: “Taken out of context, the comment sounds like a callous declaration to a patient that he or she should suck it up and forget about getting needed care. In fact, Obama was actually discussing the difficulties inherent in helping the elderly make good medical decisions.” [Plum Line, 8/11/2009]

Entity Tags: Medicare, Barack Obama, Greg Sargent, 60 Plus Association

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

The press releases a confidential, “sensitive” memo from the American Petroleum Institute (API) detailing a plan to create “Astroturf” rallies at which industry employees posing as ordinary citizens will urge Congress to fight climate change legislation. The memo was obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace and sent to several reporters. It urges oil companies to recruit their employees for events that will “put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,” and will urge senators to “avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill.” The campaign is funded by a coalition of corporate and conservative groups called the “Energy Citizens” alliance, which includes the anti-health care reform group 60 Plus, the industry “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), Grover Norquist’s Americans For Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union, and the National Taxpayers Union. API president Jack Gerard, who signed the memo, asks recipients to give API “the name of one central coordinator for your company’s involvement in the rallies.” And it warns, “Please treat this information as sensitive… we don’t want critics to know our game plan.” At least two major oil corporations, BP and Shell, are members of API and also belong to the US Climate Action Partnership, which supports the House legislation sponsored by Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA). API has spent over $3 million lobbying against that bill this year. API spokesman Bill Bush says his organization is not trying to deceive anyone. “I don’t think anyone’s hiding the ball about this,” he says. “I don’t think anyone’s trying to suggest that this doesn’t have anything to do with the oil and gas industry.” Greenpeace has asked API to reveal the member companies funding the Astroturf efforts. Shell Oil Company later informs reporters that it will not take part in the rallies. In a statement, the corporation says, “Shell’s position is not aligned with the consensus opinion of the API on Waxman-Markey, therefore Shell will not participate in the rallies.” [Gerard, 8/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/14/2009]

Entity Tags: British Petroleum, American Conservative Union, 60 Plus Association, American Petroleum Institute, Bill Bush, Greenpeace, National Taxpayers Union, Energy Citizens, FreedomWorks, Royal Dutch/Shell, Americans for Tax Reform, Jack N. Gerard

Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda

Conservative columnist Charles Lane, writing for the Washington Post, pens a column deriding the renewable energy industry and says that powerful Democratic politicians are using that industry to make themselves rich. He cites the example of former Vice President Al Gore, who has made somewhere around $100 million “partly through investing in alternative energy firms subsidized by the Obama administration.” Lane juxtaposes this information with a note that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney earned the cheers of “thousands” when, at a rally in Ohio, he proclaimed his support for the coal industry. Lane writes that liberals and Democrats are profiting handsomely by forcing the government to subsidize what he characterizes as an industry doomed to failure: “As the Democrats become more committed to, and defined by, a green agenda, and as they become dependent on money from high-tech venture capitalists and their lobbyists, it becomes harder to describe them as a party for the little guy—or liberalism as a philosophy of distributive justice.” Lane claims that Gore has an inherent conflict of interest in speaking out about alternative energy and climate change while at the same time investing in alternative energy research and development. He then lambasts the entire renewable energy industry as “not cost-competitive with traditional energy,” and claims that it “won’t be for years. So it can’t work without either taxpayer subsidies, much of which accrue to ‘entrepreneurs’ such as Gore, or higher prices for fossil energy—the brunt of which is borne by people of modest means.” Lane writes that “expensive electricity is bad for industry, as Germany is discovering. Fact is, subsidies for green energy do not so much create jobs as shift them around.” So-called “smart grids,” advanced technology that makes conventional electricity’s transmission more efficient and reliable, is bad, he writes, because it puts “human meter readers” out of work, “just as solar panels put coal miners out of work.” If any new energy technology is worth pursuing, he writes, it is “fracking,” the industry practice that promises to extract millions of tons of natural gas from the ground. Solar and other renewable energy industries would not exist if it were not for government subsidies, he claims, and will never be sustainable without government payouts. [Washington Post, 10/15/2012] Lane’s claim about Germany’s failure to create jobs in its renewable energy industry is contradicted by a German study showing that the industry creates hundreds of thousands of jobs each year (see July 31, 2013). Similarly, his claim that wealthy solar energy producers are sustained by higher rates paid by poor consumers will be strongly challenged (see April 5, 2013).

Entity Tags: Charles Lane, Washington Post, Willard Mitt Romney, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

A report by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) finds that within a decade or so, solar energy and other renewable distributed energy resources (DER) could lay waste to the utility business model and to American power utilities. The utility business model, which has remained relatively unchanged since the early 20th century, is not capable of coping with the “disruptive challenges” posed to it by solar and other renewable energy power generation. David Roberts, a staff writer for the environmental news publication Grist, will write of the EEI report in April 2013: “It is one of the most prescient and brutally frank things I’ve ever read about the power sector. It is a rare thing to hear an industry tell the tale of its own incipient obsolescence.” Standard power utilities are “regulated monopolies,” which means they are the sole providers of power in their service areas. The business model relies on the utilities selling power as “overseen” by public utility commissions (PUCs), which control what utilities can charge for their power. Inexpensive solar (photovoltaic, or PV) power “eats away at [that business model] like acid,” Roberts writes. Solar power is not regulated for the benefit of the utility companies. In simplistic terms, a kilowatt-hour (kwh) of solar energy generated by, say, a rooftop solar array is a kilowatt-hour of reduced demand for the utility. Solar power peaks each day at noon, usually the time of most intense sunlight, which is one of the power utilities’ “peak load” times. Power utilities make much of their profits from peak load electricity, as they charge more per kwh for peak load electricity. Roberts writes, “[W]hen solar panels provide peak power, they aren’t just reducing demand, they’re reducing demand for the utilities’ most valuable product.” The EEI report also challenges the myth that power consumers must rely on grid power and not solar power because solar power is not available when the sun is not shining. Battery storage, micro turbine, and other developing technologies are making it possible for many consumers to go entirely “grid free,” to opt out of grid-generated electricity entirely. Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers says, “If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using [the grid] for backup.” If a large number of consumers begin generating their own power and using the grid for backup alone, the EEI report says, the utilities face “irreparable damage to [their] revenues and growth prospects.” Utilities generally anticipate revenues that allow them to invest heavily in fossil fuel plants that will not recoup costs for 30 years. Those investments could be more difficult to recoup if consumers begin generating their own power via solar and other DER power sources, leading the utility companies to contemplate raising the rates of those consumers who do not opt out of grid-based power. The EEI report states: “The financial implications of these threats are fairly evident. Start with the increased cost of supporting a network capable of managing and integrating distributed generation sources. Next, under most rate structures, add the decline in revenues attributed to revenues lost from sales foregone. These forces lead to increased revenues required from remaining customers… and sought through rate increases. The result of higher electricity prices and competitive threats will encourage a higher rate of DER additions, or will promote greater use of efficiency or demand-side solutions. Increased uncertainty and risk will not be welcomed by investors, who will seek a higher return on investment and force defensive-minded investors to reduce exposure to the sector. These competitive and financial risks would likely erode credit quality. The decline in credit quality will lead to a higher cost of capital, putting further pressure on customer rates. Ultimately, capital availability will be reduced, and this will affect future investment plans. The cycle of decline has been previously witnessed in technology-disrupted sectors (such as telecommunications) and other deregulated industries (airlines).” In other words, as consumers begin to opt out of grid-based power consumption, and utilities raise their rates to compensate for the loss of revenue, more and more consumers will opt out, further shrinking the number of consumers paying the utilities to generate their electricity. Even small numbers of consumers using rooftop solar strikes at the utilities’ main profit centers (one reason why German utilities are already feeling the pinch). Currently, less than 1 percent of US electricity is generated by solar arrays. But a projection by Bloomberg Energy Finance forecasts that in some areas of the nation, up to 10 percent of power load will be generated by solar arrays. The EEI report speculates that utility consumers in those areas will see massive increases in their rates as the utilities compensate for the lost revenues. [Kind, 1/2013 pdf file; Grist Magazine, 4/10/2013]

Entity Tags: Edison Electric Institute, Bloomberg Energy Finance, Grist, David Roberts, Jim Rogers

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Solar expert David Roberts, a columnist for the online magazine Grist, writes that like most modern industrial systems, the traditional electricity generating utility is extraordinarily “over-engineered,” which he defines as “built to be prepared for maximum demand even though maximum demand is, by definition, rare.” Over-engineering is not necessarily a bad thing; for example, an SUV can be considered “over-engineered” until it becomes involved in a collision, when its capability of protecting its passengers comes into play. The electricity system is also over-engineered, Roberts says, mostly because there is no simple way to store electricity. Demand for electricity must be met by generated electricity; it cannot be stored. “That imposes a certain logic on the system,” he writes. “There must always be enough power generation capacity available to handle the maximum possible demand (what’s called ‘peak load’). The result is that most of our power plants, like most of our cars, spend most of their time parked, idled. They are there for those few minutes of the day when everyone gets home from work and turns on the TV.” Because of the “real-time” nature of the electrical grid, it is susceptible to blackouts. On occasion, less responsive grids are prone to cascade failures, leading to hundreds of thousands of customers being without power. In contrast, Roberts writes, the data grid operating the Internet is “fault-tolerant,” with built-in responsive features to handle blockages, slowdowns, and errors. The Internet uses buffering to increase the durability of the system and reduce the need for overcapacity, and has the capability to isolate and route around faults and failures. Electricity systems generally have neither. These capacities can be built into modern electrical grids, and the costs of such upgrades is declining. But most utility companies do not install such upgrades. Why not? Because, he writes, “the oversight system governing the utilities does not provide incentive for upgrades. These costs must be shared directly with the ratepayer and public service commissions have been reluctant to approve such measures.” Public utility commissions (PUCs) are obliged by law to have utilities provide power at the lowest cost to the consumer, and as a result there is no incentive for utilities to spend more money than necessary upgrading and improving their systems. “There is no way build a new power system while also providing lowest-cost electricity from moment to moment,” he writes. “It’s impossible. The legal and regulatory system is practically built to prevent long-term systemic change.” As the energy production and transmission systems of the United States transform themselves into a 21st-century model, systems will need to be redesigned. Roberts concludes: “We could be doing that with our electrical system. We would be doing it already if we had open, competitive markets for electricity services. Instead we have quasi-public quasi-monopolies practically mandated by law to stick with what they know and nibble around the edges. Until that legal and regulatory system changes, we’ll be stuck with the dumb, over-engineered, wasteful system we have today.” [Grist Magazine, 2/7/2013]

Entity Tags: David Roberts

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Several of the nation’s largest solar installers, including SolarCity, Sungevity, SunRun, and Verengo, form a lobbying organization, the Alliance for Solar Choice (ASC), to fight back against conventional utilities’ efforts to curtail or cancel programs that support renewable energy in 43 states. The ASC will begin by working to preserve “net metering” policies that require utilities to purchase surplus electricity at retail rates from customers with rooftop solar systems. ASC president Bryan Miller, a SunRun executive, says the group is responding to “the coordinated utility attack on net metering throughout the country.” Many utilities “have opposed net energy metering since its inception.” Utilities argue that as more people install solar arrays and generate power for themselves, non-solar customers are forced to pay higher rates to subsidize utility costs for grid maintenance and the like. (That argument has been strongly challenged—see April 5, 2013.) [Bloomberg, 5/10/2013]

Entity Tags: Sungevity, SolarCity, Verengo, SunRun, Bryan Miller, Alliance for Solar Choice

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Grist columnist and distributed energy expert David Roberts attempts to explain the viewpoints of the solar and the conventional utility industries over utility regulations as they pertain to solar power generation. He calls the issue “unavoidably wonky” but “a pivotal issue” that is “long overdue” for public understanding. The problem between the two has two components: short-term and long-term. The short-term argument between the two camps involves how electricity rates are structured and how utilities compensate, or do not compensate, customers who generate some of their own power with rooftop solar PV panels. The long-term issue revolves around the creation of “an entirely new business model for utilities, one that aligns their financial interests with the spread of distributed energy.” Battling over the short-term issues delays resolution of the long-term issue, Roberts writes.
Utilities' Perspective - About 70 percent of Americans are served by investor-owned utilities (IOUs), the traditional, for-profit, regulated-monopoly utilities that have what Roberts calls “a captive customer base and profits guaranteed by law.” IOUs are leading the pushback against distributed solar energy. IOUs make their profits by:
bullet estimating how much power their customers will need;
bullet estimating the investments they will need to make in power plants, fuel, transmission lines, and so forth in order to meet that demand;
bullet estimating how much they need to charge customers to cover their investments and offer a reasonable rate of return to their investors;
bullet convincing their state’s public utility commission (PUC) that their rates are warranted and fair; and
bullet charging that rate until they can convince the PUC to let them raise their rates.
Residential customers pay the PUC-approved “retail rate” for their electricity. [Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Net Metering - NC State’s Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) defines net metering as “a popular and administratively simple policy option [that] allows electric customers who generate their own electricity using solar or other forms of renewable energy to bank excess electricity on the grid, usually in the form of kilowatt-hour (kWh) credits.… In effect, the customer uses excess generation credits to offset electricity that the customer otherwise would have to purchase at the utility’s retail rate. Traditionally, net metering has been accomplished through the use of a single, conventional, bi-directional meter.” In its most simple terms, customers who participate in net metering programs get rebates or subsidies from their IOUs based on how much solar energy they generate for themselves: if they generate 10 hours of solar power a week, they receive 10 kilowatt-hours (at the retail rate) of credit on their electric bills. The policies are in force in some 40 states, though the details of their implementation vary widely from state to state. The utilities say that net metering is inherently unfair, since a consumer who lowers or even zeroes out their utility bill through solar power generation does not pay enough for fixed costs such as power plant construction, transmission line installation and maintenance, etc., even though these consumers still make use of these services. The utilities argue that the complexity of managing these distributed energy producing consumers increases their costs; net metering, they say, makes customers who cannot afford solar arrays subsidize those who can. (This argument has been strongly challenged—see April 5, 2013.) Utilities in many states are trying to end or dramatically cut back on net metering rebates (see April 9-12, 2013). As noted in a January 2013 report that predicted utilities will be forced into near-bankruptcy by increasing use of solar-generated power (see January 2013), many IOUs are attempting to add “customer service charges” to subsidize their fixed costs, and to lower the subsidies paid to rooftop solar producers. David Rubin of Pacific Gas and Electric has said, “We need to set the stage for continued growth in solar in what we believe will be a sustainable way which is to not have solar customers that are being subsidized by the rest of our customers and producing unsustainable rates for those customers.” [DSIRE Solar, 2013; Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Solar Perspective - The solar community is not convinced, Roberts writes, and is actively, and sometimes angrily, pushing back against the utilities’ stance. Recently, some of the nation’s largest solar installers formed an organization called the Alliance for Solar Choice (see Shortly Before May 10, 2013). Their argument boils down to the contention that utilities raise their rates regardless of who produces solar or wind power for themselves. In fact, they charge, utilities raise their rates far more than is warranted to cover what they argue are higher costs due to solar generation. Because of their monopolistic structure, they are able to make extraordinarily high profits even while bemoaning their costs. PUCs guarantee them hefty profit margins (rates of return on their investments) regardless of whether the investments were necessary. They essentially have a captive customer base, Roberts writes, and are used to charging heavily padded retail rates on the power they sell their customers. Utilities have no interest in innovation or competition, he writes, and as a result their customers “are getting shafted all over the country. Utilities overestimate demand, underestimate efficiency, and contract for gigantic central-generation power plants that customers pay for whether or not they need the power.” Roberts cites the examples of Southern California Edison customers, who are paying $68 million a month to subsidize a nuclear plant in San Onofre that has not produced a watt of energy in over a year. Mississippi customers are paying huge amounts to subsidize a coal-fired plant in Kemper County. We Energies in Wisconsin is trying to force its customers to pay for its Oak Creek coal plant, a hugely expensive facility that has been plagued with outages and breakdowns. Roberts says that utilities are not worried about increasing customers’ rates, but do not like the loss in revenue due to solar consumption. “It’s competition they don’t like,” he writes, “the potential loss of their captive customers.” Homes that are essentially “unplugged” from the grid do not impose costs on the utility, and actually save the utility money on transmission and distribution costs and in other areas. Utilities rely on consumers to pay exorbitant rates for their poorly envisioned and constructed power plants, transmission facilities, and the like, Roberts argues, instead of absorbing the losses themselves. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/27/2012; Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Conclusion - While the solar advocates have a stronger case, Roberts says, some of them have become a bit extreme in their view that all utilities are automatically the enemy. “Some utilities, at least, seem to be grappling with this issue in good faith,” he says. But even these utilities, he says, “are struggling with the question of how to appropriately compensate for distributed solar. The fact is, as long as utilities operate under their current business model, rooftop solar really does hurt them.” Roberts says the best solution is to revamp the business model, particularly the IOU. [Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013] The regulatory contract that most IOUs operate under—existing as corporations legally protected from competition, charging rates as approved by state governments, and receiving guaranteed returns—is almost completely the opposite of the free market concept. “It is the most Soviet of economic sectors,” Roberts writes. Moreover, utilities make most of their profits not from selling electricity, but from making investments and receiving returns on them. The more power lines and plants they build, the more money they earn. In the ideal free market, companies profit by competing, cutting costs, and innovating. None of this applies to the typical American utility. As long as they can make their local PUC happy, utilities are free to generate revenue merely by building more facilities, whether those facilities are needed or even useful. Now, though, the paradigm is not as profitable. Utilities’ profits have peaked, and in coming years they will continue to drop, in large part because of the increase in the usage of renewable energy in place of utility-generated energy. Meanwhile, utilities are locked into paying for facilities and improvements for the next 20 years or so, and want to charge customers as much as possible to help them pay off the debts they have incurred and keep their profit margins in place. Roberts says that while society as a whole needs distributed, renewable energy platforms, the utilities do not want them: “As a society, we need energy efficiency and demand response. We need distributed renewable energy. We need to cancel out future power plants and transmission lines. All those things are to the good, economically and ecologically. Yet utilities have every incentive to oppose them, as they are direct threats to their familiar, comfortable business model, which has survived nearly a century unchanged.… We need a ground-up rethink of how utilities work, how they are structured, and how they can be reformed in a way that enables and accelerates long-overdue innovation in the electricity space.” [Grist Magazine, 5/21/2013]

Entity Tags: Southern California Edison, David Rubin, David Roberts, Alliance for Solar Choice, Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Arizona’s largest public utility, Arizona Public Service (APS), is proposing to charge its customers who install rooftop solar panels $50 to $100 a month, or more, to cover what it says is the cost of maintaining its power grid. The increase would primarily impact new solar consumers, and not those who already have solar arrays installed. Solar energy advocates say the utility’s move will cost thousands of jobs in the solar industry, but APS says the surcharge is justified. Gregory Bernosky, an APS official in charge of the company’s renewable energy policy, says: “Right now the model isn’t sustainable. We love customers to go solar; the energy is a great resource as part of our energy portfolio. But this is about cost shifting and fairness to non-solar customers.” Bernosky says that solar-producing customers are not paying their fair share for the conventional electricity they use, in part because under a policy known as net metering, they can sell the excess energy they generate back to APS for what Bernosky says is too much credit. “We’re not collecting all the costs we need to maintain infrastructure from solar customers, and as time goes on and we have more of them, they put a greater burden on non-solar customers,” he says. This claim has been strongly challenged (see April 5, 2013 and July 31, 2013). Tim Hanna, a Solar City employee who has a rooftop array, says he pays little more than $20 or $30 for electricity even in the summer, because he generates so much solar energy for his own use. He would not be affected by the rate increase, but says many others would, stating, “I think it will put a big damper on things because whenever you talk to people, you tell them they can save a good chunk of money, and now they might not be able to save like they used to.” Arizona’s solar industry employs over 10,000 people now, a number that is expected to rise. But many solar advocates say that APS’s new policy could halt job growth and cost current jobs. Meghan Nutting of Solar City says: “Louisiana and Idaho fought similar proposals. No other state with net metering, which is 43 states, has enacted a tax hike like this. It’s crazy that Arizona, the sunniest state in the nation, might actually consider doing this.” [AZFamily.com, 7/16/2013]

Entity Tags: Gregory Bernosky, Meghan Nutting, Arizona Public Service, Tim Hanna

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Amory B. Lovins, the chief scientist for the Rocky Mountain Institute and a well-known expert on sustainable and renewable energy, writes in a blog post for the Institute that the US solar industry is being attacked by an onslaught of disinformation and lies by the mainstream media, much of it designed to promote the interests of the conventional electric utilities. He begins by citing the infamous “flub” by Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, who in January 2013 lied to viewers when she said Germany has a more successful solar industry than the US because it has “got a lot more sun than we do” (see February 7, 2013). Lovins notes, “She recanted the next day while adding new errors.” He cites a pattern of what he calls “misinformed or, worse, systematically and falsely negative stories about renewable energy.” Some are simply erroneous, he admits, “due to careless reporting, sloppy fact checking, and perpetuation of old myths. But other coverage walks, or crosses, the dangerous line of a disinformation campaign—a persistent pattern of coverage meant to undermine renewables’ strong market reality. This has become common enough in mainstream media that some researchers have focused their attention on this balance of accurate and positive coverage vs. inaccurate and negative coverage.” The coverage issue has become one of note, he says. Tim Holmes of the UK’s Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) says that media reporting has an outsized influence on the thinking of lawmakers. In Britain, Holmes says, left-leaning newspapers tend to write positively about renewable energy, while more conservative, Tory-favoring news outlets give far more negative coverage. Overall, negative coverage of renewable energy more than doubles the amount of positive coverage in the British press. In Britain, the “lopsided” coverage is largely driven by nuclear power advocates who fear competition from wind power.
Myth: Renewable Energy Industries Cause Job Losses - Lovins cites the October 2012 claim by a Washington Post opinion columnist that subsidies for green energy do not create jobs, where the columnist cited Germany as an example of his assertion (see October 15, 2012). He cites data from a German study debunking the Post claim, showing that Germany’s renewable energy sector created over 380,000 jobs in 2011 alone and was continuing to create more jobs each year. Lovins writes, “More jobs have been created than lost in Germany’s energy sector—plus any jobs gained as heavy industry moves to Germany for its competitive electricity.” He writes that “a myth persists that countries lose more jobs then they gain when they transition to renewables.” He calls this claim an “upside-down fantasy” promulgated by a faulty study released by King Juan Carlos University in Spain in 2009 and written by an economist with reported ties to ExxonMobil, the conservative Heartland Institute, and the far-right Koch brothers (see August 30, 2010). The study claimed that for every job created in Spain’s renewable energy industry, 2.2 jobs were lost in the general job market. The story is still reported as fact today. But the study was debunked by experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL—see 1977) and the Spanish government. A 2012 study by the International Labour Organization shows that Spain is leading Europe in “green” job creation. Similar claims have been made about the American job market, with right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute (also funded by the Koch brothers—see 1977-Present and February 29, 2012) asserting that if people think renewable energy industries will create jobs, “we’re in a lot of trouble.” In reality, the American renewable energy industries created over 110,000 new jobs in 2012; in 2010, the US had more jobs in the “clean economy” than in the fossil-fuel industries.
Disinformation Campaign - Lovins writes that the attacks on the renewable energy industry are too systematic and coordinated to be accidental. Only one out of every 10 articles written about renewable energy had a quote from a spokesperson with the renewable energy industry, according to a recent survey. Retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, head of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), says that enemies of the renewable energy industries “are dominating the conversation through misrepresentation, exaggeration, distraction, and millions of dollars in lobbying and advertising.” Lovins concludes: “This misleading coverage fuels policy uncertainty and doubt, reducing investment security and industry development. Disinformation hurts the industry and retards its—and our nation’s—progress. As Germany has shown, investing in renewables can grow economies and create jobs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions even in a climate as ‘sunny’ as Seattle. We just have to get the facts right, and insist that our reporters and media tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” [Rocky Mountain Institute, 7/31/2013]

Entity Tags: Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory B. Lovins, Cato Institute, International Labour Organization, Shibani Joshi, Tim Holmes, Dennis McGinn, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Keally DeWitt, an executive with solar provider SunRun, writes an opinion column lambasting a proposal by the Arizona Public Service (APS) utility company that would drastically overhaul Arizona’s net metering policy, favoring the utilities and damaging the ability of solar installers like SunRun to function in Arizona. DeWitt says the proposal, if approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), would doom the solar industry in that state. APS has proposed two options to replace the current policy. One is to charge solar homeowners $50 to $100 a month for accessing the electrical grid, no matter how little they may actually use electricity generated by the utilities (see July 16, 2013). The second option is to change the net metering practice from paying solar power consumers a credit for solar consumption at the retail rate to the much lower wholesale rate. APS has stated, “The plan is built around two options, either of which would ensure that APS customers who choose rooftop solar in the future will be compensated fairly for the electricity they generate and pay a fair price for their use of the electricity grid.” DeWitt writes that APS is “ignoring the fact that clean, local energy is worth more than fossil fuel-generated energy being transported hundreds of miles.… Both options would eliminate any financial benefits for homeowners, especially those in the working or middle classes, who want to control costs with rooftop solar.” DeWitt says that APS has created “astroturf,” or fake grassroots, groups such as 60 Plus and Prosper HQ, and used those groups to air advertisements attacking solar users. One ad compares Arizona’s solar industry to the bankrupt, much-reviled solar corporation Solyndra, and claims, “California billionaires are getting rich off of your tax dollars.” DeWitt writes, “Using outdated scare tactics and financial figures that have been publicly denounced, the groups appear to be blatantly lying to the public (and driving people crazy through overplaying their ads on YouTube).” Bryan Miller, an executive for SunRun and the head of the Alliance for Solar Choice (see Shortly Before May 10, 2013), called the ad a “disgusting attack against their own Arizona solar customers,” and said APS is responsible for the video. APS spokesperson Jenna Shaver retorted, “APS had nothing to do with the making of or the content of the video, but we were aware 60 Plus was going to engage in the discussion and we welcome their support.” Shaver said the ad merely counters attack ads aired by the Arizona solar industry. A solar advocacy group, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK), headed by Republican Barry Goldwater Jr., has countered with its own ad featuring rooftop solar customers and a rooftop solar worker, all APS ratepayers, who are against the changes. TUSK’s Jason Rose recently said: “The proposal allows the ACC to create a backdoor tax on solar owners that will either severely curtail or kill solar in Arizona.… Solar is a disruptive technology and APS can’t compete. They are trying to maintain their profits and protect their shareholders’ stock price. We have spent a lot of time talking with them and they fear for their future.” One homeowner told DeWitt: “I had a solar system installed over a year ago and it has been a great benefit to me. APS, even more, benefits from the electricity that I produce. It does not cost them anything to produce the electricity; I even pay for the repairs that are needed. Why should I be penalized from going solar? This will only deter people from purchasing solar and eliminate jobs in the growing solar market in Arizona.” Rose recently told a reporter, “After conservative states like Idaho and Louisiana rejected proposals to change net metering, it would be a travesty for Arizona, the sunniest state in the union, to do it.” Miller said flatly, “The fight for net metering in Arizona is the most significant fight for solar in the country.” [Greentech Media, 7/3/2013; Greentech Media, 7/12/2013; Renewable Energy World, 8/14/2013]

Entity Tags: Jenna Shaver, Arizona Public Service, Arizona Corporation Commission, 60 Plus, Barry Goldwater Jr., Jason Rose, Prosper HQ, SunRun, Keally DeWitt, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, Bryan Miller

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The Arizona Public Service (APS), Arizona’s largest utility, admits that it paid a national conservative organization, the 60 Plus Association, to run advertisements attacking Arizona’s solar energy industry. APS has previously denied funding the ad campaign (see August 14, 2013). APS is trying to persuade the state’s public utility commission to change a state policy allowing homes and businesses that generate their own solar power to sell the excess energy they generate back to the grid (see July 16, 2013), a practice known as “net metering.” Solar advocates say the policy has helped create an increasing demand for rooftop solar energy equipment. APS has argued that solar energy producers pay less than their fair share for conventionally generated electricity, a popular argument among conservative opponents of solar power (see October 15, 2012) that has been challenged as false and misleading (see April 5, 2013 and July 31, 2013). A recent report showed that the utility companies fear massive loss of revenues in the future as solar power begins to eat into their monopoly on electricity provision in Arizona and other states (see January 2013), in part because most utility companies find it difficult and expensive to modernize their industry (see February 7, 2013). Solar advocates say that the elimination of net metering would essentially “kill rooftop solar in Arizona” (see August 14, 2013). Republican state icon Barry Goldwater Jr. leads a pro-solar organization, TUSK, that many in the conventional utility industry seem to fear. In July 2013, APS spokesman Jim McDonald flatly denied that APS was paying 60 Plus to run the ads, telling a reporter, “No, we are not” funding the ad campaign. But reporting by the Arizona Republic has revealed that APS did pay 60 Plus to run ads attacking the solar industry, as well as paying other groups such as Prosper and perhaps others to engage in similar advertising. McDonald now admits, “It goes through our consultant, but APS money does ultimately fund 60 Plus and Prosper.” McDonald now says he was not lying in July, because “[t]hat was my understanding at the time.” He denies knowing how much APS has paid 60 Plus, Prosper, and perhaps other groups, but says whatever money was spent came from shareholders’ funds and not ratepayer money. He then pivots, saying that the issue is “a phony controversy fueled by opponents who are eager to distract attention from the real substance from the issue.” He adds: “We’re in the middle of a bitter political fight. This is not a battle that we want to fight, but we cannot back down.… [W]e are not going to lie down and get our heads kicked in. We are just not. We are obligated to fight. It is irresponsible to our customers not to fight back.” APS vice president John Hatfield tells another reporter that APS “is contributing money to the nonprofits [60 Plus and Prosper], and potentially other groups through political consultant Sean Noble and his firm, DC London.” McDonald denies that APS is anti-solar, but the ads by 60 Plus are openly hostile to solar energy. Prosper has aired ads attacking both solar energy and Medicaid expansion. Bryan Miller of the Alliance for Solar Choice says: “APS knows how popular solar is. Rather than owning up to their attacks, they set up shady organizations and worked behind them, and lied to the public and regulators for months and months. They owe the public an explanation.” Solar industry officials say that most consumers would not choose to use solar if they did not get credit for the excess energy they give back to APS. Lyndon Rive, the founder and CEO of Solar City, says that most new solar customers are installing the panels with leases, and with their new lower power bill and lease payment, they save from $5 to $10 a month. Any additional cost to solar customers greater than a few dollars would prevent most people from using solar, he says, a claim that other industry experts echo. Goldwater recently told a reporter, “Innovation is happening all around APS, and they are sitting there like an elephant in a mud puddle.” He added: “All of the [utility] commissioners are Republicans and conservatives who believe in [market] choice. They will come down on the side of competition and against APS. They better, or they are in trouble. That’s why we have elections. If we don’t like the job they are doing, we will replace them. The people in the bleachers know a lot more about what’s going on down on the field than we give them credit for.” McDonald says TUSK and other pro-solar groups are merely masquerading as conservatives, and in truth are linked to Democrats and the Obama administration.
60 Plus Funded by Koch Brothers; Ads Link Arizona Solar Industries to Solyndra - 60 Plus, an organization that calls itself a more conservative alternative to the more mainstream AARP, is a lobbying organization funded by oil magnates Charles and David Koch (see 1981-2010). In recent years, 60 Plus has produced ads attacking health care reform using false and misleading claims (see Shortly Before August 10, 2009 and August 11, 2009), and was part of a 2009 push to create “astroturf” (fake grassroots) organizations to attack health care legislation (see August 14, 2009). 60 Plus has led the conservative pushback against TUSK and other pro-solar lobbying and advocacy groups, calling net metering “corporate welfare.” The ads attempt to link Arizona solar energy companies SolarCity and SunRun with Solyndra, the solar manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2011. The two firms have no known connections to Solyndra. One ad shows images of secretive businessmen doing deals outside a corporate jet while the voiceover tells listeners, “California billionaires are getting rich off of your tax dollars.” The Prosper ad made an unsubstantiated claim that every rooftop array “adds $20,000 in costs to customers,” a claim that APS CEO Don Brandt has made since the spring of 2013. 60 Plus is led by Noble, a conservative operator who has been called “the wizard behind the screen” in the Koch’s donor network.
Prosper Founded by Republican Politicians and Staffers - Prosper is led by former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, a Republican, and former staffers for ex-Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Adams denies that Prosper was formed to work on APS’s behalf, and that it is also working to block Arizona’s planned expansion of Medicaid. [Arizona Republic, 10/21/2013; Mother Jones, 10/21/2013; GreenTech, 10/22/2013; Huffington Post, 10/25/2013]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Barry Goldwater Jr., Arizona Republic, Arizona Public Service, 60 Plus Association, Charles Koch, SunRun, Sean Noble, SolarCity, Lyndon Rive, Kirk Adams, John Hatfield, Bryan Miller, Jim McDonald, Prosper, Solyndra Corporation

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry


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