Colorado governor John Hickenlooper’s nominee to the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Glenn Vaad, is set to be sworn in Wednesday, despite his ties to a conservative, corporate-backed group that has continually fought clean energy across the country.
Vaad (R), a state representative, was nominated by Hickenlooper to serve a three year term on the three-member commission. In addition to overseeing investor-owned power utilities, the PUC also regulates such services as taxi and limousine businesses and telecommunications.
Vaad has come under fire in the state for his involvement with the secretive group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC provides model legislation for its members to introduce in their home states and receives funding from fossil fuel interests, corporations, and ultra-conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. Last year ALEC waged a campaign against clean energy laws in multiple states, including Colorado, and despite failing in each effort, has indicated they don’t plan to let up in 2014.
According to a petition launched by the Energy and Policy Institute to oppose the nomination, in 2011 and 2012, Vaad chaired ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development task force and received an ALEC “State Legislator of the Year” Award in 2012. And “an October 2012 report from watchdog group Common Cause said Vaad received ALEC ‘scholarships’ in 2006, 2007 and 2008, including money from Xcel Energy,” the Northern Colorado Business Report reported.
Vaad’s ALEC membership is particularly disconcerting to renewable energy advocates in the state. According to the Colorado PUC’s stated mission, it exists to serve “the public interest by effectively regulating utilities and facilities so that the people of Colorado receive safe, reliable, and reasonably-priced services consistent with the economic, environmental and social values of our state.”
In February, the PUC is set to consider the controversial issue of rooftop solar — a topic that has pitted Xcel, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, against the booming solar energy industry. Xcel wants to reduce the amount of credit solar customers are given for the excess energy they provide back to the grid, a policy known as net metering.
ALEC has identified rooftop solar as a policy it intends to target in 2014. Characterizing homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system,” John Eick of ALEC’s energy, environment, and agriculture program told the Guardian net metering “is an issue we are going to be exploring.”
Calling it a “clear conflict of interest,” the Energy and Policy Institute’s statement said Vaad’s appointment to the commission “will harm Colorado’s prospects for adding more renewable energy to the grid and damage the state’s cleantech sector that employs 22,000 people.”
On Monday, Hickenlooper’s office said they stood by the nomination. “His involvement with ALEC does not, by itself and without context, mean a person with his record of public service should be disqualified,” said Eric Brown, a spokesman for the governor, in an email to the Denver Post. As evidence, Brown cited Vaad’s votes to increase renewable-energy requirements for rural electric cooperatives and replace aging coal-fired power plants with natural-gas turbines. However, in 2010, Vaad voted against H.B. 1001, which increased the renewable energy requirements for investor-owned utilities in order to achieve the goal of 30 percent renewable energy generation by 2020.