Published on November 27th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan11
Solar Power War — It’s Heating Up
November 27th, 2013 by Zachary Shahan
I’m not much of a fan for simplifications. However, when people spend their time and money trying to destroy something that helps people in dozens of ways — that helps the planet and the economy and your health — simply to become slightly more rich (super duper rich), I can’t help but consider those people bad.
Perhaps they just didn’t get enough love as a child. Perhaps they aren’t happy with themselves, which turns them into greedy, hurtful punks. Perhaps they simply have narrow, less developed brains. But whatever the case, consciously hurting the world in order to make a few million more is not cool. It’s bad.
For a complicated network of reasons, the super rich fossil fuel and utility industries have connected more with leading Republicans in federal government and media. They have worked for years to stall the clean, renewable energy revolution. To say they haven’t scored many successes would be naïve. They have. But wind and solar power have pushed through, unable to ever be fully blocked, just as they cannot be fully blocked in nature. Still, though, as they grow, the multi-million-dollar or even multi-billion-dollar efforts to stop their growth increase as well.
An interesting thing that is occurring right now, however, is that solar power has gotten so competitive and is growing so much that a lot of conservatives have come to see that it fits their ideals perfectly. Solar power is about freedom, independence, self-reliance, and the free market… that is, if huge barriers to its participation in the free market are not constructed by powerful politicians.
Indeed, one of the solar stories of the year is the clashing of these “good conservatives” with the super-rich “bad conservatives” who have sided with fossil fuel giants and utility monopolies rather than society itself.
Green Tea Coalition In Georgia
The battle took itself to Georgia earlier this year when Tea Party Patriots fond of the freedom, independence, and self-reliance that solar power offers found themselves having to fight with other Republicans in the state who were trying to keep solar out of one of the sunniest states in the nation.
In Georgia, Tea Party activists broke their longstanding ties with [Americans for Prosperity (AFP)] over the solar issue, citing an individual’s right to choose his or her own energy source. The result was the emergence of the Green Tea Coalition, a strange political coupling between Tea Party Patriots and Sierra Club environmentalists that successfully lobbied state regulators to increase solar mandates for utility giant Georgia Power. “We’re approaching this from a free-market energy freedom choice perspective,” said Debbie Dooley, the outspoken activist behind the Green Tea Coalition. The national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, Dooley says she is working with other Tea Party leaders to set up Green Tea Coalitions in states across the South, including Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and Mississippi.
Don’t think that the folks at AFP gave up. They tried to manufacture a grassroots campaign attacking solar, a campaign filled with myths that the Associated Press soon debunked.
“They’re really doing a disservice to the grassroots,” Dooley said. “They claim to be for the free market but they are definitely not trying to encourage innovation or competition—and I think a lot of it is to protect their donors.”
Battle Of Net Metering In Arizona
A similar fight also just occurred in Arizona. Electricity provider electricity provider Arizona Public Service (APS) wanted to cut net metering at its knees in the sunny state (where solar power is now cheaper than electricity from the grid) by charging owners of rooftop solar power systems $50 to $100 a month for having their systems connected to the grid.
Let me quickly catch you up with a few things before going on:
- Net metering is in 43 states. Basically, it is a policy that says people who have solar power systems should get paid (or credited) the retail rate of electricity for any extra electricity they send back to the grid. It’s not a subsidy, it’s not abnormal, and it’s anything but unfair. It’s a very fair policy… well, actually….
- Numerous studies have found that the benefits of decentralized solar power far exceed the retail rate of electricity, so solar system owners should get paid more than the retail rate of electricity for solar they send back to the grid (typically, at times of peak electricity demand).
Looking at these two points, it’s absurd that APS should expect to collect $50 to $100 a month from owners of solar power systems!
But that’s exactly what it was aiming for. In other words, a policy that could stop the rapid growth of solar power in Arizona, which is cutting into the profits of fossil fuel companies and potentially utility monopolies (who don’t want free-market competition).
The outlook seemed dire. The decision was up to the state’s 100%-Republican utility commission. APS had donated $25,000 to the Republican Victory Fund in 2012. 4 of the 5 members of the utility commission used to be members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has made renewable energy one of its prime targets in the past couples years (in the interest of massive fossil fuel donors). Furthermore, APS itself spent at least $3.7 million on a campaign against net metering!
But APS wasn’t prepared for two things: 1) powerful Arizona Republicans who were in support of solar power and freedom of choice; and 2) the overwhelming support for solar power (and common sense) from non-corrupt people.
Over the course of many months, APS and its allies attacked solar power. However, California Republican congressman Barry Goldwater, Jr., citizens, and the solar industry fought back. Goldwater rallied the Republican base with his whole-hearted belief in solar power’s tremendous synergy with conservative values. “Republicans want the freedom to make the best choice,” Goldwater said.
“Conservatives want—no, they demand—freedom of choice. We can’t let solar energy be driven aside by monopolies that want to limit that freedom of choice. It’s not the American way; it’s not the conservative way.”
Goldwater started Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed (TUSK). The organization prominently portrays the fact that it is linked to the GOP:
Goldwater and team ran some genuine grassroots ads and rallies to fight back for “the little guy” and energy freedom. Here are a couple:
By pretty much all accounts, the citizens won. The 100%-Republican utility commission voted 3–2 to impose only an average $5 monthly fee on new solar customers in the state. Still, it’s absurd, given that citizens with solar power systems should be getting paid more, not having to pay a $5 fee. However, the fee is clearly minimal, and it’s not going to change the solar revolution that is occurring in Arizona, the state with the most solar power capacity installed per capita or per GDP. The revolution continues in Arizona. (Note: whether you live in Arizona or elsewhere in the US, see how much you can save by switching to solar power!)
The Fight Goes On
Unfortunately, the solar power fights are far from over. As I noted above, ALEC is working as hard as it can to fight renewable energy, especially solar power, in states all across the Union.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a “stealth business lobbyist” that writes legislation favoring the interests of its corporate members, is moving into the intense debate on net metering for solar.
The move illustrates just how significant solar PV has become in discussions about the future of utility policy.
ALEC is a nonprofit organization that brings corporate members together to draft “model” legislation and pitch it to thousands of state and federal lawmakers. The group has become well known in the clean energy sector for its efforts in 2013 to push legislation to weaken state-level renewable energy targets. So far it has been unsuccessful in getting any of those laws passed.
In early December, ALEC will be holding a task force meeting on energy and environmental issues in Washington, D.C. It has now included net metering on its list of priorities for “model legislation” in 2014.
As I’m sure you could guess, working on behalf of utility monopolies and fossil fuel companies, ALEC is looking to shake up a standard, basic policy that is helping solar homeowners to get somewhat fair payment for the electricity produced by the solar panel systems on their roofs.
Hopefully more Barry Goldwaters, more Green Tea Coalitions, and more good and sensible conservatives aligned with clean energy champions will help to keep any campaigns aimed at handicapping solar power from ever going through. Keep your eyes peeled! (And keep an eye here for the latest important news on this front, and other important solar power information.)