Los Angeles, CA – With solar power on the rise around the country, a national network of fossil fuel and utility-backed organizations have joined forces to put the brakes on this fast-growing, pollution-free energy resource. Trade groups and think tanks backed by deep pocketed anti-clean energy ideologues and fossil interests are bankrolling campaigns, promoting model legislation and running media campaigns to provide cover for anti-solar campaigns across the country, said a new report released today by Environment California Research & Policy Center.
“California has only just begun to scratch the surface of its solar energy potential,” said Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate with Environment California Research & Policy Center. “For our climate and our environment, we can’t allow special interests in the fossil fuel industry to pull the plug on the bright potential of solar power.”
The report, Blocking the Sun, documents 17 fossil fuel backed groups and electric utilities running some of the most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in 12 states, including California.
California’s Imperial Irrigation District (IID) is featured in the report for its decision to abruptly end its solar net metering program earlier this year. The decision stranded an estimated 1,200 homes and businesses who had already signed contracts with solar installers, were in the midst of installing projects, or had already installed solar panels but were not yet connected to the grid. These 1,200 customers were not able to use their solar panels to generate their own electricity, much less receive compensation for the electricity they sent back to the electric grid. Finally, after six months of negotiation and with help from state legislators, IID signed an agreement that would extend net metering to most of its stranded customers. However, IID will still not pay full retail net metering credits to solar customers going forward, which will likely stunt solar energy growth in its territory, which covers all of Imperial County along with parts of Riverside and San Diego counties.
“It’s a shame that there are utilities like IID who are so against privately-owned rooftop solar,” said Brandon Carlson, who has been educating and working within the solar industry in Southern California for more than a decade. “Their unwillingness to address homeowners’ concerns or work with the solar industry to find a beneficial solution to net metering has forced many contractors and companies to simply close doors within their territory. In their quest for better profits, utilities have put a lot of hard-working Americans out of work; all while removing the ability for the average homeowner to invest in inexpensive, sustainable, and clean energy.”
The report also documents how the Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonprofits; the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislatures, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in a set of states; utilities in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, West Virginia, and Illinois have undertaken extensive campaigns to revoke renewable energy policy or impose new charges on their solar customers.
In mid-2016, there were at least 84 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states that could impact the growth of solar energy, including through limitations to net metering or new charges to make rooftop solar power less economically viable.
The report urges state decision-makers to recognize and resist utility and fossil fuel industry influence that seeks to undermine solar energy and to instead encourage the growth of solar power.
“It’s important for utilities, legislators, and the solar industry to work together and develop sustainable policies that encourage our country to reach its long-term, renewable energy goals,” said Carlson.
“Solar is a critical part of our clean energy future, providing tremendous benefits, reducing pollution, saving consumers and businesses money, and revitalizing local economies,” said Kinman. “Now, more than ever, California and other states must lead the charge on the transition to solar power and renewable energy.”
Environment California Research & Policy Center is a statewide environmental organization dedicated to protecting California’s air, water and open spaces.