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The solar net metering mess in Nevada gives Harry Reid a chance to nail ALEC and the Koch brothers on the Senate floor for meddling in US energy policy.

Clean Power

Solar Net Metering Fight Gets Personal, Koch Brothers Named On Senate Floor

The solar net metering mess in Nevada gives Harry Reid a chance to nail ALEC and the Koch brothers on the Senate floor for meddling in US energy policy.

The fight over solar net metering in Nevada just got personal last Friday, with a proposed new amendment tacked on to the federal energy bill designed to protect solar customers from retroactive fees and other unexpected rate changes. In a speech on the Senate floor making his pitch for the amendment, Nevada Senator Harry Reid denounced the billionaire Koch brothers by name for trying to knock the pins out from under the nation’s solar industry. For good measure, Reid also nailed ALEC, the Koch-sponsored anti-solar lobbying group.

solar net metering Nevada Koch ALEC

The Nevada Solar Net Metering Mess

For those of you new to the topic, net metering is credited with pushing the US distributed solar industry from only 7,000 rooftops as recently as 2005, to more than half a million today. Owners of rooftop solar arrays that are grid-connected get credit for the excess solar energy that they generate, typically resulting in lower electricity bills. Without that perk, the incentive to invest in a rooftop solar array diminishes significantly.

The solar net metering mess in Nevada popped up late last year, when the Nevada Public Utility Commission gave the state’s solar installers — and its customers — a whopping big lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. The PUC not only lowered the rate of compensation for solar customers and raised the monthly charge, it made the change retroactive, basically transforming the statewide solar market into a classic bait-and-switch scheme.

The Nevada solar industry roared back with a show of force. SolarCity, SunRun, Vivent and other solar installers promptly shut down all or part of their Nevada operations, idling thousands of solar workers.

As voiced by Vivent CEO Greg Butterfield, the devastating loss of jobs should warn other states against a similar move, but apparently it’s too late for Nevada. In mid-January the Nevada PUC voted unanimously to proceed with the new solar net metering rates, without delay.

Harry Reid Vs. The Koch Brothers

Or, maybe it’s not too late for Nevada. Congress has been hammering out an energy bill, and in the latest development, last Thursday U.S. Senators Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced an amendment that would protect net metering customers in Nevada and elsewhere. In a speech on the Senate floor, Reid pointed out exactly who he expects to protect solar customers from:

The Koch Brothers and their fossil fuel pals have attacked our blossoming clean energy industry at every turn. They’ve done it in state legislatures all over the country, and they’re doing it today on this amendment that Senator King and I have worked on. They have turned loose their minions, their anti-consumer minions, and they’re now out working against this amendment.

After citing a recent New York Times op-ed detailing the solar bait-and-switch in Nevada, Reid continued:

That’s fairly frightening that the utilities and the Koch Brothers are doing this. The Koch brothers are doing it through a number of the billions of dollars that they have invested in controlling America through organizations called ALEC – the so-called American Legislative Exchange Council – which is a phony front to working the state legislatures.

[snip]

Unfortunately, monopoly utilities and ideological groups funded by the Koch brothers are working hard to defeat any protections for Americans who generate their own clean energy. They are fighting our efforts to protect families and businesses from having their contracts torn up and their power bills hiked.

Ouch!

The White House Weighs In

For those of you unfamiliar with ALEC, the longstanding Koch-funded lobbying group’s primary strategy is to create model state legislation for its member legislators to follow, virtually word for word.

Until recently ALEC’s membership roll also includes leading US corporations, but ALEC’s extremist conservative policies — for example its 10th Amendment “states’ rights” position — has motivated dozens to jump ship in recent years.

ALEC’s promotion of the fossil fuel industry has been another stick driving away corporate members. While claiming that it doesn’t favor one form of energy over another, the ALEC has come out swinging against solar net metering.

On the other hand, the Obama Administration has been waving carrots at the business community to woo major companies away from ALEC in promotion of clean tech and climate action, one example being the recently launched American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at President Obama’s weekly radio address from last Saturday, just two days after Senator Reid’s speech. Coincidentally — or not — the President’s address was all about investing more in clean tech for job creation, with a subtle jab at the Koch brothers and ALEC:

…the budget I will send to Congress this Tuesday will double funding for clean energy research and development by 2020. This will include new investments to help the private sector create more jobs faster, lower the cost of clean energy faster, and help clean, renewable power outcompete dirty fuels in every state.

[snip]

The point is, all across the country, folks are putting their differences aside to face this challenge as one…

So there’s that.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Reid/King amendment to benefit Nevada solar customers, Democrats in the Senate are also fighting for an amendment that would clean up another ALEC-fueled mess over in Michigan, so stay tuned.

Photo: via army.mil (via US Department of Energy).

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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