Exelon’s Massachusetts Flip-Flop

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distributed generation utilitiesThe state that made political flip-flops famous has just claimed another victim. But this time the guilty party isn’t a Presidential candidate. It’s one of the largest energy behemoths in the country.

Exelon Corporation (which owns utilities in three states and is asking regulators to allow it to buy a fourth in the District of Columbia) recently bragged about killing the wind industry and claimed that it would kill the solar industry next: “This year, it’s the wind industry,” said Exelon Chief Lobbyist Joe Dominguez. “Next year, it will be the solar industry.”

But now, Exelon has flip-flopped and is pushing for the extension of a net metering cap in Massachusetts. Why the change of heart? That has yet to be seen. Regardless, it seems that Exelon is in fact supporting a watered-down version of landmark legislation that many have hailed as a breakthrough in the struggle between the solar industry and monopoly utilities.

Newly dubbed H.4185, the legislation in question would codify Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s goal of installing 1,600 megawatts of solar in Massachusetts by 2020. It would remove Massachusetts’ cap on net metering, a policy on the books in 43 states that gives rooftop solar customers retail credit for the surplus energy they deliver back to the grid, and it would institute rate reform to ensure that rooftop solar consumers are treated equally to all other ratepayers instead of being punished for making their homes more energy efficient.

Sounds like a great example of adversaries finding common ground for the greater good, right? Perhaps that’s why sources tell me Exelon is asking the legislature to gut the bill and pass only the elimination of the net metering cap. Could this be a case of a big utility reading the writing on the wall and making a bid to escape with the shirt on its back? Or has Exelon actually had a change of heart?

One of two things has happened. Exelon has either flip-flopped on net metering, or it is lying to legislators when it tells them it supports extending net metering.

According to David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, “The public policy position of Exelon is to oppose subsidies for wind and solar while the company itself purports to be this super-green company and also wants more subsidies for nuclear.” Crane sums up his take with the understatement of the year: “That’s just hypocritical.”

When I attempted to contact Exelon for a comment on H.4185 or my take in this article, I was told that a “subject matter expert” was on a plane and would get back to me as soon as possible. One week later, I’m still waiting for their response. But maybe Exelon’s silence speaks more on this subject than sound bytes ever could.

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Peter Allen

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

Peter Allen has 29 posts and counting. See all posts by Peter Allen