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Arizona Commissioner Probes Utility's Secret Funding of Anti-Solar Campaign 207

Posted by Soulskill
from the wrong-way-to-fight-the-power dept.
mdsolar writes "An Arizona utility commissioner is asking for all the key players in a debate over a solar energy policy in the state to reveal any additional secret funding of nonprofits or public relations campaigns. The probe comes after Arizona Public Service, the state's largest utility, admitted last week that it had been secretly contributing to outside nonprofits running negative ads against solar power. As The Huffington Post reported Friday, APS recently admitted that it had lied for months about paying the 60 Plus Association, a national conservative organization backed by the Koch brothers, to run ads against current solar net-metering policy. APS is currently pushing the Arizona Corporation Commission to roll back the policy, which allows homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar energy systems to make money by selling excess energy back to the grid. Solar proponents say that the policy has facilitated a solar boom in the state, and that changing it could have a huge negative impact on future growth."
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Arizona Commissioner Probes Utility's Secret Funding of Anti-Solar Campaign

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  • Its a shame. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Friday November 01, 2013 @10:59AM (#45300387)
    It is a shame that the solar debate is guided so heavily by politics. It is a shame that APS cannot have a public discussion regarding the negative side of solar projects without being bashed by politicians and a list of anti-everything groups that have no accountability. It is shame that APS feels the need to quietly support the dissemination of this information through indirect channels, and not be forthright about it when questioned.

    A key red flag in the article is the question of using 'ratepayer money'. That is a political ploy meant to inflame. The rate base is negotiated between the PUC and the utility based on a range of factors including cost of operation, capital needs and others. It also includes profit for the utility. There should be no restrictions on how the utility uses that profit. It is funny that nobody complains about money sources when APS finances an efficiency campaign. Let’s be honest, the outrage is simply the fact that the drawbacks of solar are being promulgated. Would these same politicians be outraged if this money went to a pro-solar entity? A climate exists where large utilities or other entities must publicly profess that solar is always wonderful or otherwise get labeled as money hungry evildoers.

    Facts are facts. Solar is clean, diverse, expensive and unreliable. There is a fit for it in the mix. There is also a point where it causes problems for the grid that will require significant waste or expense to alleviate. Growth must be managed properly to get the maximum benefit. In most cases, we could reduce environmental impact much more per dollar by investing in energy efficiency rather than solar. Unfortunately, that approach does not produce a visible "green" trophy. Installing solar thermal water heaters would yield much better financial and environmental returns than solar PV.

    Most residential solar units are installed by wealthier Americans who are taking advantage of huge tax incentives. Essentially, we are paying for much of their energy cost via our tax dollars. I find it amazing that some of the same folks who complain about the very wealthy are so willing to give them money in this manner.

    Solar has a place in our energy mix. Solar also has its drawbacks, and its OK to talk about them. Or is it an outrage?
  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday November 01, 2013 @11:08AM (#45300465)

    Political ploy? If they charge that they should pay it, or damn near it. A utility should have severe restrictions, you get those when you are a monopoly. I would prefer if the lines were owned by the state and the power provided by many providers.

    It is fine to talk about them, it is not fine to fund FUD from far right wing groups.

  • by themushroom (197365) on Friday November 01, 2013 @11:14AM (#45300517) Homepage

    Yeah, let's run a smear campaign against not only one of the cleanest forms of energy available, but the source most plentiful and free in that particular state. A utility should be getting onboard, not trying to harpoon something that could benefit them.

  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CaptainLard (1902452) on Friday November 01, 2013 @11:15AM (#45300529)
    The problem here is "APS recently admitted that it had _lied for months_ about paying the 60 Plus Association". Things may have been different if they'd just come out with their side of the story on why solar is bad. The way they went about it is indeed an outrage.
  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 01, 2013 @11:17AM (#45300547)

    What's interesting is that the Republicans here are showing their true colors, fighting against an independent populace when they want the populace to be heavily dependent on their corporate owners. Imagine the nerve of suggesting that people might not only live off the grid, they could invest their money in a means of production and then sell that product! Oh dear! If this continues, we might have unbridled capitalism, and where would Republicans be without corporate graft?

  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 01, 2013 @11:18AM (#45300559)

    Using shills to push your agenda is not having a public discussion. If the folks at this company had wanted to participate OPENLY in the debate, that would be one thing. Instead they chose to use fronts to get away from the public eye.

    That invalidates their participation, as they are not honest, but instead deceitful. They can't be trusted now, nor can any of the claims made by their agents.

    We probably need to treat them like Enron, so that others learn a lesson from this. Be forthright.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 01, 2013 @11:27AM (#45300647)

    Fair enough, let's also withdraw all US military support from the Mid-East, all US protections for coal and oil production, as well as environmental immunities, let's stop eminent domain being used to allow the construction of pipelines and seaports used for fossil fuel production, and let's allow every individual to properly file suit against any corporation that has endangered them by the pollution of the Earth. Or heck, let's just stop protecting them from trespassing, vandalism and assault.

    Oh wait, you don't want to go for a real and true anarchy, but want to keep drawing your own arbitrary lines, conveniently protecting those you like, while excluding those you don't.

    Good-bye moral high ground.

    Sorry, but the government has long protected "non-green energy" and if you are going to insist on preventing crony capitalism and kickbacks, and don't want to pick winners and losers, you're going to have to make a real commitment to it, not a phony sham one that ignores the vast amount of protections and services received by the fossil fuel industry.

  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday November 01, 2013 @11:32AM (#45300685)

    Imagine the nerve of suggesting that people might not only live off the grid, they could invest their money in a means of production and then sell that product!

    In other words, people with excess solar capacity are small-business owners.

    To be fair, Republicans fully support small-business owners, unless they interfere with big business, or Conservative moral/social agendas, or a politician's chances of getting re-elected, or those people have anything to do with minorities, women, reproductive rights, sexual orientation ... Wait, what was I talking about again?

  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Skapare (16644) on Friday November 01, 2013 @11:47AM (#45300813) Homepage

    And, the utility is forced to buy the power from it's customers at the same rate they sell power to them ... which means they cannot recover distribution costs or make at least some profit. Electric distribution utilities need to be able to buy the power at a lower price than they sell it.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Friday November 01, 2013 @12:34PM (#45301235)

    Net-Metering doesn't make money for the property owner. The Net of the front of that means that at the end of the year if you generate excess power (vs what you used when the sun didn't shine) the balance is wiped to zero and the utility doesn't pay you a cent.

    What this means is that solar panels generate power during peak usage when commercial power rates are the highest, the home owner typically buys power at night when rates are the lowest. The net-metering means the meter spins backwards during the day. If at the end of the year the meter is less than when the year started the balance is zeroed and they start over. If it's positive the homeowner cuts a check for the amount.

    The debate is that as solar power use grows the people using with zero bills aren't paying any maintenance dollars to support upkeep of the grid. Right now power rates combine generation and grid maintenance costs in one per/kw number.

    The counterpoint is that the number of people at zero is INCREDIBLY small because any excess capacity is handed to the power utility for nothing.

    The reality is that as the number of people at or near zero increases, the system needs to adjust to separate power costs and grid maintenance. The solution the utility wants, is to end net-metering, the solution that should be implemented is a fixed line minimum grid maintenance fee (either monthly or yearly). It should be noted that the utility is mostly opposed to this because it would mean they would have to actually disclose what grid maintenance costs and what power costs. And of course the astro-turfed opposition is funded by the two largest private owners of hydrocarbon based energy in the US.

  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cusco (717999) <brian.bixbyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday November 01, 2013 @12:38PM (#45301285)

    Depends on local zoning. In some areas homes that are not connected to the power grid are considered 'uninhabitable', no matter how absurd that might be. That includes homes that are empty because the owners may be working overseas or who only occupy a vacation place a few months out of a year. My grandparents couldn't turn the electricity off to their house in Florida, even after they had definitively moved back to Michigan when she got sick, because they would not have been able to sell an 'uninhabitable' home for a fair market price.

  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday November 01, 2013 @12:39PM (#45301297)

    Then charge a distribution fee. The should buy and sell power at the same rate and only charge for infrastructure use.

    Utilities as they are monopolies the law forces me to buy from should not be for profit.

  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Entropius (188861) on Friday November 01, 2013 @12:58PM (#45301513)

    This isn't a natural limit, it's one imposed by the law. Saying "Well, you can just move somewhere else" is never a justification for shitty laws.

  • Re:Its a shame. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by evilviper (135110) on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:33PM (#45301949) Journal

    To be fair, Republicans fully support small-business owners

    Even with your list of exceptions... still no.

    Republicans give lip service to supporting small business owners, because the fascist things they want to do to funnel money to big businesses, can be disguised as possibly helping a few small businesses slightly, while big businesses get billions out of it. It's just a cover, and they have no intention of helping them out, at all.

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