The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an influential lobbying group composed of Republican politicians and big businesses, is in the middle of the state- and local-level clean energy disputes that are currently evolving almost as quickly as the solar and wind technologies themselves. ALEC, known for advancing corporate interests, is aligned with the Koch brothers in the current heated exchange — how to make distributed solar power look bad.
Solar power is growing rapidly across the U.S., with capacity up an astounding 418 percent in the last four years alone. This has given rise to two primary policy-level debates: how much renewable power utilities are required to use, known as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), and figuring out the logistics of net metering, which guarantees homeowners or businesses with solar panels on their roofs the right to sell any excess electricity back into the power grid.
The Los Angeles times has recently been reporting out a story about how the Koch brothers are trying to roll back these solar initiatives across the country:
“The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation’s largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.”
ALEC, which has referred to homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system,” is deeply involved in both combating renewable energy mandates and modeling legislation that targets net metering. Last year alone, ALEC pushed more than 70 bills in 37 states that would have impeded clean energy growth. While ALEC was highly unsuccessful at actually passing anti-clean energy bills it advanced at the state level last year, a new document obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy reveals the intensity that ALEC is bringing to 2014 in its anti-environmental efforts — which include not just stifling clean energy, but opposing EPA coal regulations related to public health, promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, and working toward industry-friendly fracking rules.
The spreadsheet from March, 2014 lays out 131 bills that ALEC is tracking — even though ALEC has claimed that it doesn’t track its model legislation. According to analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy, eleven of the bills attempt to amend net metering laws. Currently 43 states and the District of Columbia have net metering policies. Thirty-one of the bills relate to renewable energy production, with 29 states and the District of Columbia currently employing some form of RPS.
“An entire section was devoted to tracking renewable energy legislation, which suggests that this is still a top priority for ALEC in 2014 following their near total failure in 2013,” Nick Surgey, Director of Research for the Center for Media and Democracy, told ThinkProgress. “The number of bills in this document shows that, as toxic a brand as ALEC is becoming, it is still highly effective at getting the big polluters agenda introduced in the states.”
One example of this comes in Arizona, where the Los Angeles Times reports “a tangle of secret donors and operatives with ties to ALEC and the Kochs invested millions to persuade state regulators to impose a monthly fee of $50 to $100 on net-metering customers.”
While ALEC might be doing the dirty work on clean energy, the fossil fuel industry is the one calling the shots, and filling the coffers. This is what makes it so cynical for ALEC to claim to be defending the free market while at the same time trying to punish solar users who have found a way to economically generate clean energy and provide some of it back to the market.
Solar suppressors like ALEC recently claimed victory in Oklahoma, where Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law a bill that would allow utilities to charge customers who generate electricity from solar panels or small wind turbines. When Gov. Fallin signed the bill she also issued an executive order, an unusual move that few expected, that emphasized the importance of renewable energy in her Oklahoma First Energy Plan. According to Politifact, Fallin told state agencies to implement the bill in accordance with her energy plan, “which promotes wind and solar power as important forms of clean energy,” and for the commission to “consider the use of all available alternatives, including other rate reforms such as increased use of time-of-use rates, minimum bills, and demand charges.”
The bill lets electric utilities apply to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to establish a higher base customer charge for users of rooftop solar or small wind turbines. While the executive order isn’t binding, it guides the Corporate Commission, made up of statewide elected officials, with what to do.
“This has been on top of ALEC’s to-do list all year long, a likely result of the utility and fossil fuel corporations that are members of ALEC,” Matt Kasper, energy research assistant at the Center for American Progress, told ThinkProgress about the Oklahoma bill. “When the Oklahoma utility companies do request the fee, all stakeholders should be called to the table for a transparent conversation. Hopefully the Oklahoma Corporation Commission will recognize the true value of customer-generated power.”