The rooftop solar industry closed out 2013 with a 4-0 winning streak against the monopoly utilities’ attempts to eliminate net metering. Net metering gives rooftop solar customers full retail credit for the excess electricity they deliver to the electric grid. The utility turns around and sells this electricity to homes and businesses nearby, and saves money on big costs like transmission and distribution.
Idaho, Louisiana, California, and Arizona all upheld net metering this year, siding with public opinion, consumer choice, and competition. The battle in Arizona was particularly heated, as Arizona Public Service (APS) took the fight to new levels with dark money tactics and a multimillion-dollar campaign against rooftop solar. After reports from October exposed the utility for lying about funding anti-solar ad campaigns and phony grassroots organizations, a web of dark money surfaced.
In response, Arizonans came out in droves to support the energy choice and competition that rooftop solar provides. More than 30,000 Arizonans wrote to the state’s Corporation Commission to defend net metering, particularly notable considering there are only 18,000 rooftop solar customers in the state. On the day of the final hearing in November, more than 1,000 Arizonans descended on the Arizona Corporation Commission headquarters. Ultimately, Arizona Public Service failed to get the large solar tax they had requested, and net metering was upheld.
The Arizona activities make us question which other utilities are using dark money tactics in their state-by-state campaigns against rooftop solar. Yet other utilities and their trade association, Edison Electric Institute (EEI), remain silent on this issue, even after a request that they disavow such tactics.
A recent Washington Post article validates the pervasiveness of dark money in climate change denial and the fights against solar. The piece, titled, “The Dark Money in Climate Change,” reports:
The thrust of the study, done by Dr. Robert J. Brulle, is that climate-denial money has largely been driven underground to dark-money sources. About 75 percent of the money backing climate-denial efforts is untraceable, primarily via conservative foundations and shadowy tax-exempt groups that obscure their funding sources.
The story goes on to explain that untraceable funding to attack climate change has increased at the same time that publicly traceable funding from major industrial donors has decreased. Notable industrial donors whose public funding has dwindled of late include ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. As the Washington Post states, “You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what’s happening there.”
As we enter 2014, net metering battles are already underway in notable solar markets such as Colorado. Fortunately, while the solar industry doesn’t have the deep pockets of fossil fuel supporters, we do have the public on our side. According to a new poll, nearly four in five Colorado voters (78%) support solar net metering. What’s more, these results match other state-by-state findings across the country – including California, Arizona and Hawaii – that show overwhelming public support for rooftop solar.
The Washington Post affirms that there’s no shortage of dark money supporting monopoly utilities. It remains to be seen where and how it will surface in 2014.