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Rooftop Solar

The Double Agent and the Gorilla, Part 3

Nat KreamerNot long ago, I wrote about Clean Power Finance and its President and CEO Nat Kreamer. At the time, Kreamer — a former military man — appeared to be serving as a “double agent,” playing both sides of the monopoly utilities’ crusade against rooftop solar. Several months later, the double agent has shown his true stripes: Kreamer and CPF are enabling utilities in their quest to stomp out competition.

Utilities are losing the war on solar, and they know it. In the past year alone, they have gone 0-for-9 in their attacks on rooftop solar (in California, Idaho, Arizona, Washington, Utah, Kansas, Vermont, and Louisiana – twice!). To save face, they’re putting a new twist on an old approach: “If you can’t compete with ‘em, monopolize ‘em.” In other words, try to take over the marketplace by cutting solar companies out of the process. Suddenly, rooftop solar is perfectly fine with the big monopoly gorillas, as long as utilities are the only ones who can sell it.

For example, utilities in Washington State just failed in pushing a bill that would have banned third-party vendors from installing rooftop solar if a monopoly utility offered it, even to one customer. To quote the bill directly: “If an electric utility offers a leased energy program, no other entity may offer leases to the utility’s customers.” That’s as explicit as an anti-competition attempt gets.

But utilities are not usually this brazen in their efforts to stomp out competition. “Smarter” utilities try to cloak their efforts in confusing regulations and legislation. Enter Double Agent Kreamer. CPF is the glue that holds the monopoly anti-competition schemes together. Let me explain with a few examples:

Virginia: In April of 2013, CPF received an investment from Virginia’s Dominion Resources. Then, on a panel in February of 2014 at the Solar Power Finance & Investment Summit, Gary Courts of Dominion confirmed that CPF is its partner in operating a monopoly power grab where only Dominion and CPF control rooftop solar in Virginia.

South Carolina: In June of 2013, CPF announced an investment from Duke Energy. Now, as Duke faces a federal criminal investigation for manipulating utility regulators, it is trying to pull another fast one over policy makers in South Carolina. Duke is pushing legislation that would give it total control over rooftop solar in the state. Like Dominion before it, how long will it be before Duke announces that CPF will manage this power grab?

Florida: Reports indicate that CPF has also received funding from major utility NextEra. Just last week, NextEra subsidiary Florida Power & Light (FP&L) proposed a “community” solar program. By “community,” they mean utility-owned. And ratepayers are being asked to volunteer to give an extra $9 per month to support this monopoly power grab. Meanwhile, CPF is waiting in the wings to manage it.

Utilities can and should compete to serve solar customers in open and competitive markets. But that’s not what’s happening in these states. Instead of competing, utilities are trying to use their monopoly power to ensure that they are the only ones building solar. It’s clear as (a sunny) day: their goal is to shut out and shut down other solar companies completely, except for their enabler, CPF. This has already happened in Virginia. South Carolina and Florida could be next.

Like the military, the rooftop solar industry must police itself. CPF’s own installation and service partners stand to lose the most from these monopoly power grabs. Collectively, they have the power to stop them.

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is an independent media strategist based in San José, CA. You can read his many musings on Twitter @pjallen2.


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