This week the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an influential lobbying group composed of Republican politicians and big businesses, is hosting its “States and Nation Policy Summit” in Washington, DC. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is giving the keynote, and Republican budget leaders Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) will also give speeches. All three are climate deniers with poor environmental records, so they will feel at home as ALEC renews its efforts in 2014 to weaken or repeal clean energy policies in states across the country.
On Tuesday, The Guardian showed how ALEC is facing a funding crisis after losing a number of members due to its policy on gun laws. In the last two years ALEC lost lost almost 400 state legislators and more than 60 corporations largely due to the group’s involvement in the Stand Your Ground law that originally allowed George Zimmerman to walk free after he killed Trayvon Martin.
The next day, the paper explained how ALEC “is mobilizing to penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels — casting them as “freeriders” — in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy”:
“Over the coming year, ALEC will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalizing individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.”
Even though ALEC lost all 13 of its anti-clean energy legislative fights at the state level this year, the group is opting to up the ante in 2014 by promoting bills and resolutions targeting President Obama’s nationwide climate action plan, especially when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
This comes after a year in which ALEC, with help from groups like the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank skeptical of climate change, failed in all of their coordinated attempts to roll back renewable portfolio standards (RPSs).
With $500,000 in funding from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch’s foundations from 2005–2011, and $1.4 million from Exxon Mobil this past decade, ALEC is not used to this kind of disappointment.
Gabe Elsner, director of the Energy and Policy Institute, told the Guardian that after disappointing state efforts in 2013, ALEC is now focusing on weakening clean energy standards rather than repealing them.
“What we saw in 2013 was an attempt to repeal RPS laws, and when that failed … what we are seeing now is a strategy that appears to be pro-clean energy but would actually weaken those pro-clean energy laws by retreating to the lowest common denominator,” he said.
One way ALEC is doing this is by entering the fight against net metering, which utility companies argue is an unfair subsidy for solar that doesn’t take into account fixed costs like grid maintenance and labor. Net energy metering policies allow solar owners to get credit for energy they feed back to the grid.
43 states and the District of Columbia currently have net metering policies, and they have played a large role in the growth of rooftop solar nationwide.
The ALEC draft document for this week’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting encourages state policymakers to recognize the value the electric grid delivers to all and to update net metering policies to require everyone who uses the grid, such as distributed solar users who feed into it, to pay for it.
According to Mari Hernandez, an energy research associate at the Center for American Progress, “Solar companies and advocates say that utilities aren’t adequately accounting for the benefits that solar brings to the grid, including an energy source that decreases demand during peak use (when electricity is most expensive), reduces transmission and distribution costs, increases consumer choice, lowers greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to cleaner air.”
In a landmark case last month Arizona regulators voted for affordable net metering. Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest utility, had advocated for charging customers much more than the regulators determined to be fair. APS was under heavy scrutiny during the regulation hearings for renewing its membership with ALEC.
Until Wednesday, Ohio remained the last state to face ALEC’s anti-clean energy efforts this year. However, on Wednesday the Senate Public Utilities Committee canceled plans to send Senate Bill 58 to the floor for a full chamber vote at least until next year over concerns about the effects of the bill’s proposed changes. The effort to pass the bill is being led in part by ALEC board member and Ohio State Senator William Seitz.
According to the Toledo Blade the bill “would eliminate the mandate that half the renewable power come from Ohio sources, a move some argue would undercut decisions made to locate wind and solar farms and waste digesters in the state.”
On December 2nd, Campbell Soup Company came out against the bill, saying that, “the current version of Senate Bill 58 would overhaul the current state policy on energy efficiency and renewable energy standards and discourage continued investment in renewable energy in the state:”
“In addition to being a clean, domestic source of energy, renewable energy like wind and solar has no fuel cost. While the cost of electricity from coal and gas will go up and down given the volatility of the markets for those fuels, we can enter into a 20 year contract for renewable energy where we know what we’ll be paying for the electricity today and in 2033.”