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Rooftop solar energy supporters rally in Denver, before marching to the offices of utility corporation Xcel.

Clean Power

Dark Money Makes The Utility World Go ‘Round

A so-called consumer advocacy group from Houston, Texas, with ties to the fossil fuel-loving Koch brothers, recently submitted 2,500 signatures from Wisconsin ratepayers to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in support of across-the-board rate hikes from utilities Madison Gas & Electric and We Energies. The We Energies’ proposal also included a hefty additional tax on solar customers. A charge that would cripple the already-fledgling rooftop solar industry in Wisconsin.

Go ahead and raise your hand if that sounds consumer-friendly to you.

Luckily for those of us who support a free market and consumer rights, the Wisconsin PSC rejected the petition and called into question its legitimacy. Now, many ratepayers who “signed” the petition are coming forward to say they were duped, and in some cases didn’t sign anything.

While it’s not immediately clear if WE or MG&E were behind the petition, the solar advocacy group TUSK has set up an anonymous hotline for employees of the utilities to report any connection. And let’s face it, this isn’t the first time that dark money has mounted attacks against the solar industry. Nor will it be the last…

Speaking of which, way out West, Arizona Public Service has been losing battles left and right in its legislative and administrative attempts to maintain its monopoly against the rising tide of rooftop solar and renewable energy.

APS’ latest scheme is to start a solar installation business funded by ratepayers and guaranteed profits. In other words, monopolize the sun because APS failed to eliminate the critical solar policy net metering. APS would use its guaranteed profits to dominate the market and crush rooftop solar companies.

But the APS proposal has such a thin veneer of legitimacy that the utility can’t seem to get any legitimate ratepayers to step up and support it. Instead, it’s paying a public relations firm to toot its horn for them.

It’s recently been revealed that at least four letters to the Arizona Corporation Commission in support of the proposed APS rate changes were written and signed by employees and former employees of Gordon James Public Relations — a firm that just happens to work for APS

Did I neglect to mention that Gordon James PR also set up this “astroturf” website to give the appearance of support for APS from working people? How do we know it’s a Gordon James product? The contact info on the site is the same as the firm’s. Makes you wonder how good they are at this whole public relations thing.

Paired with the shenanigans in Wisconsin, this kind of dark money game on the part of the utility industry could start to look like a conspiracy — if you’re prone to conspiracy theories. I prefer a far simpler perspective: Stupid is as stupid does.

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Written By

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


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