TODAY’S STUDY: How Old Energy Undermines New Energy
Blocking the Sun; Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power
Hye-Jin Kim, Rachel J. Cross, Bret Fanshaw, November 2017 (Frontier Group and Environment America Research & Policy Center)
Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people. The amount of solar energy currently installed in the U.S. can power one in 14 American homes; that amount is expected to triple within the next five years.
The growth of American solar energy in the past decade has been the result of smart solar-friendly state policies like net metering and tax incentives for solar infrastructure, putting clean energy within financial reach of millions more Americans. The recent appointment of officials favored by electric utilities and fossil fuel interests to key positions within the Department of Energy and other federal agencies makes the preservation of strong solar policies in the states more important than ever.
In 2017, utilities continue to chip away at key state policies that put rooftop solar on the map in the United States, making it harder for Americans to invest in clean energy.
This report documents 20 fossil fuel-backed groups and electric utilities running some of the nation’s most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in 12 states, including eight attempts to reduce net metering benefits and seven attempts to create demand charges for customers with solar power. Citizens and policy-makers must be aware of the tools that utilities 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-backed think tanks has provided the funding, model legislation and political cover to discourage the growth of rooftop solar power.
-The Edison Electric Institute, the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, launched the current wave of attacks on solar in 2012. Since then, EEI has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council to create model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and attack net metering.
-The American Legislative Exchange Council also provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislators, 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. The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has carried out anti-solar organizing efforts.
-The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is a Houston-based front group for the utility and fossil fuel industry, representing companies like Florida Power and Light, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell Oil. CEA has spent resources and shipped representatives across the country to help utilities fight their battles in states like Florida, Indiana, Maine and Utah.
-The state industry group Indiana Energy Association successfully lobbied on behalf of the state’s biggest electric utilities to end net metering, replacing it instead with a new solar policy that limits consumer compensation for generating rooftop power.
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.
-In Florida, Florida Power and Light, Gulf Power Electric, Tampa Electric Company and Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., spent millions of dollars funding the front group, Consumers for Smart Solar, which was the primary backer of a failed 2016 ballot initiative that would have restricted rooftop solar growth. In 2017, Florida Power and Light drafted language for a new bill to restrict solar growth in Florida.
-Two major Arizona utilities – Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project – have successfully pushed for anti-rooftop solar policies. Arizona Public Service, the biggest utility in Arizona, has also been accused of improperly cultivating influence with the state commission that regulates utilities and funneling dark money into recent commissioner elections.
-In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power tried once again to eliminate net metering and charge additional fees to its 20,000 customers that generate rooftop power. Public outcry from ratepayers and the solar industry forced Rocky Mountain Power to settle, grandfathering all current solar customers into net metering.
-In Texas, El Paso Electric renewed its past attempt to create a separate, and more expensive, rate class for solar customers. In 2015, the utility spent $3.1 million on filing and negotiating fees, an amount ultimately charged to ratepayers, before dropping the proposal, only to pick it up again this year.
-In 2015, Nevada Energy successfully campaigned the Nevada utilities commission to eliminate net metering, a move that effectively halted the growth of rooftop solar in its service territory for two years. After widespread public protest, state legislators effectively reinstated net metering in 2017.
As of mid-2017, there were at least 90 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states with the potential to affect the growth of rooftop generation, such as limits on net metering or new utility fees that make solar power less affordable.
State decision-makers should resist utility and fossil fuel industry influence, and reject policies such as
-Elimination of, restrictions on, or unfair caps on net metering;
-Discriminatory surcharges or tariffs for solar customers;
-Utility rate designs that discourage solar adoption;
-Unnecessary regulatory burdens on solar energy; and
-Rollbacks of renewable electricity standards.
In addition, state leaders should embrace ambitious goals for solar energy and adopt policies that will help meet them, including:
-Considering the benefits of distributed solar energy to the grid, to ratepayers and to society in any rate making or policy decisions about solar energy;
-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;
-Enabling financing mechanisms to allow for greater solar access to businesses and residents;
-Allowing companies other than utilities to sell or lease solar to residents and businesses; and
-Making smart investments to move toward a more intelligent electric grid that will enable distributed sources of energy such as solar power to play a larger role.
Policymakers should also uphold our country’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution. Solar power will play a major role in any strategy to reduce global warming pollution and the carbon footprint of the energy we generate and consume.