On Thursday, the Georgia Public Service Commission will decide whether to require Georgia Power, the state’s sole investor-owned electricity provider, to significantly expand its use of solar energy. The fight to diversify the state’s power supply has united some unlikely bedfellows — namely, renewable energy advocates and leaders of the Atlanta Tea Party.
Tea Party members supporting the solar expansion see it as a simple free market issue. They believe consumers have the right to choose where their electricity comes from and shouldn’t be forced to remain dependent on a single source, especially in light of the rapidly declining cost of solar.
Despite the Tea Party’s support, Americans For Prosperity, a conservative group funded by the Koch brothers, came out against the proposed solar measure last week — launching what it calls “a multi-pronged, grassroots driven initiative” urging activists to pressure members of the PSC to reject the solar expansion.
In an email to its 50,000 members across the state, AFP Georgia director Virginia Galloway asks, “What if I told you something you’re not even hearing about in the news is about to raise your electricity bill by more than 40 percent and reduce the reliability of every appliance and electronics gadget in your home? That’s what will happen when your Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) votes on July 11th if you don’t take action today!”
On its website, AFP calls the measure “renewable energy mandates” and cites the Institute for Energy Research to support its claim that “utility bills are as high as 40% higher, on average, in states with a renewable energy standard than in states without one.”
This is wrong on multiple counts. First, a Center for American Progress analysis shows that state renewable energy standards have no predictable impact on electricity rates. Second, Georgia PSC allowing solar to enter the marketplace in a competitive manner is not a mandate.
An Associated Press review concurs, determining the group “used misleading figures to build its case.”
In a response email titled “Distortions and Deception,” Debbie Dooley and Julianne Thompson of the Atlanta Tea Party reiterate their support for “deploying solar in a conservative way” and call out recent hypocrisy and misinformation:
There are those that criticize solar for what happened with Solyndra and attempt to paint all solar the same. Yet these same people don’t raise a peep about the subsidies Southern Company receives — CWIP, Nuclear Finance Fees, Fuel Recovery Charges, Natural Gas Conversion Costs, the NEW Rate Increase, Nuclear Cost Overruns, and that’s after GA Power gets billions of nuclear production tax credits over the 60 year nuclear reactor life expectancy (for their nuclear power plants like Vogtle). Conservatives need to be consistent with their arguments. We fully support all energy sources including coal, nuclear, natural gas, wind, and solar. We just don’t believe it is responsible to be completely reliant on one or two energy sources to generate needed electricity.
Americans for Prosperity’s anti-solar campaign in Georgia is just one of many Koch-backed efforts across the country working to deny the existence of global warming, stop the regulation of pollution from coal-fired power plants, and dismantle successful state renewable energy legislation.
For example, AFP spent $2.4 million in 2011 and another $6 million in 2012 on media campaigns to play up the Solyndra bankruptcy in key election states. Political fact-checking organization PolitiFact labeled the ads “mostly false.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council, another Koch-funded organization, has been working with the Heartland Institute to roll back state’s renewable energy standards, though their efforts thus far have failed in Kansas, North Carolina, Colorado, among others.
A new report from American University investigated the widespread political, policy, and educational influences of the Koch brothers — specifically the link between the overwhelming lack of nationwide action on climate change and Americans for Prosperity’s “No Climate Tax Pledge.” As the New Yorker reports, “since most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to action.”
Contrary to AFP’s alarmist rhetoric, longtime Georgia Public Service Commissioner and Republican Lauren “Bubba” McDonald sees enhanced access to solar energy as “an opportunity for the consumers.” After Georgia Power’s initial 20-year plan included no new provisions for solar energy, McDonald put forth his own proposal, requiring Georgia Power to add another 525 MW of solar power.
Thursday’s vote to amend Georgia Power’s plan requires a majority of commissioners in favor of the solar expansion, a threshold advocates are working hard to secure. Dooley tells Climate Progress that despite AFP’s misinformation campaign, which “was based on misleading data and was not accurate,” most of the Tea Party activists she works with support the proposed solar plan because they see it as a “way to help protect the environment, give consumers choice and in the long-term help lower their rates.”