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How regulators and legislators make it harder for you to use solar power

Lucas Mearian | Feb. 25, 2015
Legislative efforts to squelch net metering abound

In 2013, Debbie Dooley, a founder of the first nationwide Tea Party protest, teamed up with the Sierra Club to form the Green Tea Party. The group then lead an effort against Georgia Power, which was trying to impose fees on customers who used rooftop solar power.

"So you've got this unusual alliance of people who get what the promise of the technology holds from an environmental perspective and consumer perspective, but they also recognize consumer rights and are pushing back on the monopolistic tendencies of utilities," Rogers said.

The Green Tea Coalition is leading efforts to promote consumer power choice in Florida and Wisconsin.

Brendan Fischer, general counsel for CMD, said most efforts to limit incentives for solar power adoption can be traced back to specific lobbying groups, such as ALEC.

The lobbying efforts are all aimed at protecting coal and oil industry bottom lines and protecting their business model, he said. "And, the increasing use of renewables is a threat to their business model," Fischer said.

Eick, however, said ALEC doesn't "push" its models for legislation on any legislators.

"If a state chooses use it as a model, that's its legislature's decision," Eick said.

Eick also compared net metering policies to forcing grocery stores to purchase surplus vegetables from home gardeners, except instead of tomatoes, "we're dealing with electricity generated from small-scale, onsite distributed generation sources."

John Rogers, a UCS senior energy analyst, called ALEC "a corporate bill mill or dating service for corporations and legislators," and pointed to its backing of anti-renewable energy bills, such as California Senate Bill 412, as evidence of its agenda.

ALEC's bills can be credited as models for proposed legislation in at least 15 states, Rogers said.

According to documents obtained by the Guardian newspaper, ALEC's 2013 resolution in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline was used as the model for pro-oil pipeline legislation in at least seven states.

"In Colorado, there have been 14 bills to roll back solar initiatives and two have been enacted. That's a pretty low success rate, but those efforts continue in color," Rogers said.

ALEC receives funding from the Koch brothers, owners of Koch Industries, which has a significant stake in fossil fuels.

Solar capacity is still tiny
Currently, there is about 17,500 megawatts of solar electric capacity operating in the U.S., enough to power more than 3.5 million average American homes.

Still, solar capacity represents less than 1% of all electrical capacity in the U.S. The nation gets 39% of its power from coal, 27% from natural gas and 19% from nuclear power, according to Philip Jordan, vice president of the Solar Foundation.


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