Who Is Strangling Solar Panels In The State Of Kentucky?
February 5th, 2018 by Tina Casey
The Canadians? Seriously? An organization with ties to Canadian tar sands oil is apparently behind an aggressive anti-solar lobbying campaign that recently fired up in Kentucky. The campaign is intended to rally support for a new state law that which would cut the incentives for property owners to install solar panels on their roofs. All of this is not particularly surprising, but it does come at an awkward time for President* Trump, who spent considerable political capital pitching a controversial new solar tariff.
A Blow Against Solar Panels In Kentucky — From Canada? Seriously?
The Louisville Courier-Journal has been taking an in-depth look at the campaign in support of House Bill 227. Support your local journalists and read the whole thing (here’s an earlier Courier-Journal piece on the legislation), but for those of you on the go, the gist of it is that a group called Consumer Energy Alliance is behind the campaign.
SourceWatch has the rundown on CEA, including this reference to a 2011 article in Salon:
According to Salon.com, which obtained over 300 emails of personal messages between lobbyists and Canadian officials, the CEA is part of a sophisticated public affairs strategy designed to manipulate the U.S. political system by deluging the media with messaging favorable to the tar-sands industry; to persuade key state and federal legislators to act in the extractive industries’ favor; and to defeat any attempt to regulate the carbon emissions emanating from gasoline and diesel used by U.S. vehicles.
Okay so it’s not just the Russians. For that matter, US lobbying organizations have honed this sort of manipulation to a fine art for a generation, just one example being the Heartland Institute’s anti-climate strategy (and before that, its pro-tobacco campaign, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms). Here’s a snippet from the Salon article:
The broader fight to reform Alberta’s tar sands, the one which actually stood a chance of breaking America’s addiction to the continent’s most polluting road fuel, has been quietly abandoned over the past several years. For that we can thank the planet’s richest oil companies and their Canadian government allies, who’ve together waged a stealthy war against President Obama’s climate change ambitions.
Apparently CEA hasn’t lost any of its juice since 2011, although the company got in hot water recently for submitting fake petitions in a campaign against the solar industry in Wisconsin.
Kentucky’s Solar Renaissance Is (Hopefully) Not DOA
Even if HB 227 passes, Kentucky’s solar industry could still kick itself out of the doldrums.
That’s certainly a long shot. The state is currently ranked at a lowly 41 for installed capacity, and the Solar Energy Industry Association anticipates that it will remain in that slot over the next five years.
However, there are a couple of developments are in favor of ramping up solar investment in Kentucky.
Shell, for example, has been winding down its Canadian tar sands oil assets and it just sank some big bucks into the Tennessee-based solar developer Silicon Ranch. Silicon Ranch is one company that sees a world of opportunity in low-solar southeastern states like Kentucky. The cash infusion from Shell will help accelerate its plans for that region and elsewhere in the US.
The investment also provides Shell with an incentive to push back against groups like CEA, though that’s a somewhat complicated issue considering that Shell is, as of this writing, listed as an affiliate of the organization.
For the record, Statoil is another global oil giant ditching tar sands oil for renewable energy in the US, specifically offshore wind energy.
Last April, Inside Climate News identified five US and Europe-based oil giants divesting from tar sands oil, and last December The Guardian reported on the US based insurance behemoth Axa, which is shedding its fossil fuel liabilities including Canadian tar sands oil and pipelines, at least some of which are assumed to be in the US.
In another interesting development, Alberta — the “tar sands capital of the world” — is beginning to invest in renewables.
In other words, the field of tar sands oil stakeholders is beginning to shrink, while the field of financial heavy-hitters with an interest in renewable energy is expanding.
That’s eventually going to play out in terms of the number of dollars groups like CEA can count on to stay afloat.
Prospects Dim For HB 227?
Meanwhile, the Courier-News reportage seems to be gaining legs, and as of this writing it looks like the Consumer Energy Alliance campaign may fall flat.
Earlier this week, the Lexington Herald published an op-ed with this observation:
HB 227 takes aim at Kentucky’s growing homegrown solar industry and limits consumer choice. Why do Reps. Jim Gooch, Matt Castlen, Larry Brown and Sal Santoro, sponsors of HB 227, want to do this? Kentucky utilities have never provided any data to show the need for this legislation and offer no evidence that Kentucky’s non-solar customers are subsidizing grid access for those with panels on their roofs.
Local NPR affiliate WEKU filed this update yesterday:
There are about 1,000 households in Kentucky that have solar panels and participate in the net metering program.
The bill was heard during a committee meeting on Wednesday, but didn’t receive a vote…possibly signaling there weren’t enough votes to pass it.
On a related note, Kentucky is one of the nation’s leading coal producing states, but it is not immune to the coal power plant closure trend.
As of last November, energy watchers were predicting that another 272 megawatts of coal generating capacity will leave the Kentucky grid by 2019, primarily consisting of older units nearing the end of their lifespan.
In another good sign for renewable energy in Kentucky, the Kentucky Coal Museum in Benham is powered by on-site solar panels thanks to planners at Southeast Community and Technical College where the museum is located.
Even more interesting is the Kentucky-based coal company Berkeley Energy Group, which announced last spring that it is laying plans to reclaim a strip mine near its Pikeville headquarters for solar power.
According to a report last June in Appalachian Voices, construction on the PV farm is set to begin after mining stops at the site, some time later this year.
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Photo: Alberta tar sands via Howl Arts Collective.
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