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.