Shedding Light in the Darkness

How Power Utilities Block Solar Development


The major utility companies have been mounting aggressive campaigns to block home owner solar energy development. Rolling Stone has reported on the issue and how the Koch brothers and utility giants have bankrolled a ballot initiative in Florida to block the development of home solar and to protect the utilities’ continuing oligopoly on energy generation in the Sunshine State.

One of these companies Florida Power & Light, also known as NextEra has been trying to get into the Hawaii utility market and take over the state’s biggest utility, HECO. They’ve been promising to support home owner solar energy in the Hawaii, but their track record in Florida illustrates they have no intention of doing this.

In Florida the state Public Service Commission–stacked with appointees hand-picked by Republican Governor Rick Scott for their current terms–have gutted Florida’s energy efficiency goals and ended a solar power rebate program for homeowners. State law even prevents homeowners from installing solar panels by restricting the leasing of equipment by consumers.

The utilities have mounted a stealth, disinformation campaign, cleverly called Consumers for Smart Solar, to undermine any attempts to increase solar in the state

The Orlando Sentinel reported: “Beware the clipboard army.  They ask if you are a registered voter and desperately want you to sign a petition to get an issue on the ballot. These folks are often paid by the signature so they can be pretty persuasive. And sometimes deceitful,” assuring people are “signing for a measure that is “pro-people” and “anti-monopoly.”

“Smart Solar wouldn’t do a thing to raise the profile of solar energy in Florida, where solar makes up only about 2 percent of power generated.”

Supporters included a group calling itself “Let’s Preserve the American Dream Inc.” which gave $200,000 to the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar. It’s listed as a “social welfare” organization that has a 501(c)4 designation, which exempts it from disclosing donors. Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Company gave at least $160,000 each to the campaign.

Consumers for Smart Solar gathered enough signatures to get on the November ballot. “Florida voters will have the opportunity to approve an amendment that is good for consumers, good for the environment and good for Florida,” they announced.

Florida is one of America’s sunniest states but because of utility stonewalling it ranks at 15th in the development of this clean power source. It is one of four states that require solar energy to be sold exclusively by utilities.

In January Florida Power & Light submitted a proposal to the PSC, seeking to hike its electric rates by nearly 24 percent over the next three years and asking the commission to reward FPL investors with a higher guaranteed rate of return.

“FPL spent millions fighting to deny consumers solar choice,” says Debbie Dooley who helped found the Tea Party and directs Conservatives for Energy Freedom. “Now they have their hand out, asking for a subsidy.”

According to Hawaii News Now, Financial analysts, advising their clients on stock prices, are expressing doubt that the NextEra Energy acquisition of Hawaiian Electric will ever go through. Wells Fargo calls it a 50-50 proposition given the continued opposition of Gov. David Ige and what it calls “the tendency of Hawaii residents to favor local ownership of businesses over ‘outsiders’.”

A bill in the Hawaii Legislature, H.B. 2567, would require that such a deal confer a “substantial net benefit.”  Hawaii consumers are warned, oppose NextEra.

In Nevada, The New York Times reports, the state’s Public Utilities Commission announced a rate change drastic enough to kill Nevada’s booming rooftop solar market and drive providers out of the state. More startlingly, the commission made its decision retroactive. The American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts model bills for right-wing state legislators and receives financial support from fossil fuel interests, has campaigned for rates like those the commission adopted.

According to The Guardian electricity companies in 19 states have tried to repeal or weaken credits customers receive for electricity generated from rooftop solar. Nine states actively discourage solar either by banning third party financing, so homeowners have to pay for a system up front, or by outlawing tax credits offered by other states. And five states have no rules allowing homeowners with solar panels to get paid for feeding power into the grid.


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