Atlanta, GA – A national network of utility interest groups and fossil-fuel industry-funded think tanks is providing funding, model legislation, and political cover for anti-solar campaigns across the country, and would-be solar power owners are paying the price, says a new report by Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center.
Behind the scenes, these electric utilities, fossil fuel interests and powerful industry front groups have begun chipping away at the key policies that have put solar energy on the map in the United States – often in the face of strong objections from a supportive public.
The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is one of the groups carrying out anti-solar energy organizing efforts. In Georgia and Florida, AFP has run misinformation campaigns against net metering and other solar policies, according to the analysis, Blocking the Sun: 12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power.
In 2013, when the Public Service Commission was readying for a vote on the Advanced Solar Initiative, which required Georgia Power to have 525 MW solar by 2016, AFP launched a campaign attacking the initiative. Funded by the Koch brothers, this organization activated its members and utilized social media to promote erroneous claims about the cost of the Advanced Solar Initiative and its impact on the economy. They emailed over 50,000 Georgians urging them to oppose the initiative and “keep the lights on” because the ASI would raise electricity prices drastically, a claim that was outright false.
“Americans for Prosperity worked to undermine the Advanced Solar Initiative here in Georgia,” said Colleen McLoughlin with Environment Georgia. “And our report shows they’re following the same playbook used by polluters and their allies across the county.”
Ultimately, a coalition of conservative lawmakers and environmental groups convinced the Georgia utility board to resist AFP and to pass the requirement.
In 2012, a bipartisan group of state senators introduced Senate Bill 401, which would have amended the Cogeneration and Distributed Generation Act of 2001 to allow third parties to sell excess solar power back to the grid. The bill received wide public support since it would allow solar panel leasing and make the option of going solar much cheaper for residents. However, it was shelved in the Senate after Georgia Power expressed their opposition to the bill.
“We found that most attacks on solar energy happen behind closed doors in utility agencies, or in dense regulatory filings -- away from public view," said Gideon Weissman of the Frontier Group, co-author of the report. “That’s probably because they’re aimed at very popular policies that give regular consumers the chance to go solar.”
House Bill 57 was enacted this past July, and essentially achieved what Senate Bill 401 would have. But in the past three years, many homeowners and business owners could have gone solar if leasing had been an option sooner.
Georgia state leaders could do much more to promote the growth of solar, like allowing community solar projects, reinstating a tax credit and utilizing solar on municipal buildings and public property.
This report documents 12 fossil fuel backed groups and electric utilities that are running some of the most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in the United States. Citizens and policymakers must be aware of the tools self-interested parties are using to undermine solar energy across America – and redouble their commitment to strong policies that move the nation toward a clean energy future.
“Georgians support pro-solar policies,” said McLoughlin. “It’s time for government to stand up to utility and fossil fuel interests and do what the people are asking for.”
Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentGeorgiaCenter.org