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Green Building News

Putting the Squeeze on Renewable Energy

A group of free-market state legislators and business interests will promote legislation weakening clean energy efforts, a newspaper says

Solar panels are one target of model legislation that would weaken existing laws promoting renewable energy, according to an article in The Guardian.
Image Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

A group of state legislators and business interests promoting “free-market enterprise and limited government” is hoping to roll back renewable energy legislation around the country and limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and fracking, according to an article in The Guardian newspaper.

A particular target of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will be solar panels installed by homeowners to reduce their reliance on utility power. Also on its hit list are state regulations called Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require utilities to include a certain percentage of renewable energy sources in their energy mix.

The newspaper said in an article published Dec. 4 that ALEC is planning “a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy” in 2014, a strategy which began to take shape last August at a board meeting in Chicago.

ALEC seeks change in a variety of state laws by drafting model legislation that can be introduced by state lawmakers (examples are available at ALEC’s web site). The organization says it’s in business to “to advance fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level.” Critics say the organization’s aim is to protect utility industry profits.

The Guardian reported details of the group’s plans for the coming year as about 800 state lawmakers and business leaders met in Washington for annual policy discussions.

Homeowners who install solar panels are called “free riders”

Efforts to change existing rules for solar panel installations have popped up around the country over the last year. In November, Arizona became the first state in the country to charge homeowners a monthly fee when they install panels, and similar efforts have been made elsewhere.

John Eick, ALEC’s legislative analyst for energy, environment and agriculture programs, told The Guardian the organization would study how homeowners are paid for feeding surplus electricity into the grid, an attractive feature of grid-tied photovoltaic installations and a fundamental requirement for net-zero energy houses.

He said ALEC’s aim would be lower the rate that electric utilities pay homeowners, and possibly allow utilities to charge them, as Arizona’s largest electric utility is now allowed to do.

“As it stands now,” he told the newspaper, “those direct generation customers are essentially free riders on the system. They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non direct generation customers are being penalized.”

Eick said homeowners with solar panels actually “should be paying to distribute the surplus electricity.”

This question of who pays for what was explored in depth in an article in The New York Times last summer. Utility executives in California argued that generous net metering rates coupled with a sharp spike in the number of solar installations ultimately would shift the cost of maintaining the grid to non-solar customers. One executive went so far as to call the trend a “death spiral” for utilities.

Renewable portfolio standards also under attack

In 2012, ALEC drafted model legislation that would repeal requirements that utilities provide at least some renewable energy. The exact proportions are determined at the state level. The general idea is that renewable portfolio standards will reduce the generation of electricity by traditional sources, such as coal-fired plants, that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and contribute to global climate change.

But the efforts to eliminate the standards met with very little success, The Guardian said, because of strong local support for clean energy from both Republicans and Democrats.

So ALEC is now focused on weakening the regulations rather than eliminating them completely. At the August meeting, for example, ALEC discussed an initiative that would allow utilities to import clean energy from other states rather than produce it themselves, according to the newspaper.

“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,” Gabe Elsner of the Energy and Policy Institute told the newspaper.

Other ALEC agenda items for the coming year, according to the report, include limits on the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and bar the agency from shutting down fracking sites or oil industry facilities, the newspaper reported.


  1. Brent_Eubanks | | #1

    This article is poorly framed...
    and I'm not talking about the walls.

    The lead-in to the article talks about "free market legislators and business interests". That's all very nice, and that's how they describe themselves. Thing is, it's a totally false, misleading description. Even a cursory examination of their actual activities and the policies they support will lead one to realize that they are not advocates or defenders of the free market. They are defenders of the existing status quo - nothing more. (Full disclosure: I am a Libertarian. I am a staunch believer in personal liberty, and personal responsibility. The currently-in-vogue Koch-inspired flavor of "libertarianism" - of which ALEC is a prime example - has nothing to do with these principles. It's a smoke screen for the empowerment of corporations over people.)

    Worse, it's an intentionally misleading turn of phrase. The right wing is very, very good at messaging; this is evident in how easily the media (including this article) picks up and propagates their tropes. Thoughtful journalists these days need to very carefully examine the terms they use in describing various parties to a debate - particularly if those terms are themselves chosen by one of the parties in question.

    Please, please read Don't Think of an Elephant. It's short, accessible, and does a great job of explaining the idea of framing, its role in communication, and how it is being used to change the terms of the political debate. It's coming from an unabashedly liberal perspective - something which puts me off in some ways - but this does not detract from its relevance to understanding this key aspect of messaging and communication.

  2. 3daves | | #2

    Fossil fuel defeats democracy
    Those of us who make a living designing and installing renewable energy systems are at the forefront of the effort to lead us into a future that doesn't destroy our precious (and only) planet. We are developing systems to utilize energy that doesn't have to be pumped out of the ground, fouling pristine landscapes, and polluting underground aquifers basically until the end of time. Much development has yet to be done, and the "winners and losers" in this technology will only come to the top with time and much toil.

    We are fighting an industry with nearly unlimited resources that is working full time to control politicians, and the message put out by the media (and doing a great job of it). Even NPR, once an independent voice in the media, is taking dirty fossil fuel money (heard the "Think About It" ads lately?).

    Since we in the renewable enery sector don't have the money (or, indeed, the time) to fight people lke the Koch brothers, we rely on concerned citizens who look beyond their own pocketbooks, and who care about the future we leave to upcoming generations.

    An underlying problem we in the solar energy sector face: You can't place a meter on the sun, so once our systems are put in place, there is no revenue stream to make us rich enough to hire lobbyists, and networks such as Fox, to put out our message. We can only rely on honest journalists, which, fortunately, there are still many of.

    The issue of government based incentives is controversial. When well thought out, they can have a positive effect; when developed hastily, they can do harm. Of course, there is no useful discussion going on in the present Congress, because the obfuscation caused by the fossil fuel industry disinformation has brought all progress on a brighter path to the future to a halt.

    IMHO, the first positive step into the future is to get money out of politics. THen politicians will be enabled to do the job that they were sent to Washington for: working on the challenges we face as we travel into a future filled with uncertainty.

  3. stuccofirst | | #3

    Cost of doing business
    so this Eick character wants to tax solar suppliers for use of the infrastructure, when the solar arrays are part of the infrastructure itself, paid for by the homeowner. ALEC wants to protect "free-market enterprise" , yet , tax the little guy for generating electricity from a renewable resource? I marvel at the stupidity.
    If Eick states, solar generators "should be paying to distribute the surplus electricity." When was the last time a supplier of electricity paid to provide such a service?
    When has, ever in the history of mankind, a merchant paid to provide goods rendered?
    You can't have it both ways.

  4. Mikey | | #4

    Paying to supply power to the utility?
    Where I live, we already pay for the use of the infrastructure, currently $15/month:

    "The monthly customer charge covers the cost of maintaining your electric meter and the wires that bring electrical service to your home or business. The customer charge also covers the cost of reading the meter and maintaining customer records and accounting for bill payments, credit and other transactions affecting your account. The customer charge is incurred even if electricity is not used during the month."

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