After using last year’s legislative session to deal with Duke Energy’s Dan River coal ash spill, Republicans on the House Public Utilities Committee are bringing back their 2013 attempt to freeze the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). Representatives Millis, Hager, Collins, and Warren introduced House Bill 681 yesterday.
In 2013, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) member Hager was the chief sponsor of the REPS repeal bill. He was joined by at least seven other ALEC members in sponsoring the bill. Hager’s bill started out as a full repeal, but amendments turned it into a bill that would freeze the renewable energy targets at the current rates. Ultimately, Hager could not get the bill through his committee. It was defeated 18-13.
This year, Hager and his colleagues on the committee are pushing to freeze the state at the 6% renewable energy target (which is the 2015 target) for public utilities, municipalities, and cooperatives, likely inspired by the Ohio RPS freeze bill that was passed last year.
Mississippi, one of the last states that have not created a net metering policy, might soon have a rule created. On Tuesday, the state Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously to issue rules that will create a framework allowing customers to install rooftop solar and sell excess electricity to their utility company. Public comments are due by July 1, 2015, a hearing will be held, followed by the issuing of final guidelines.
This is the latest development in Mississippi that spans back to 2010 after the PSC opened a docket to explore the policy. In 2014, Commissioner Lynn Posey ordered an investigation study on the economic impact of net metering. Synapse Energy Economics, a research and consulting firm, assisted the PSC and completed the investigation in October. The Synapse study found that the benefits of implementing net metering for solar in the state outweigh the costs in all but scenario. Here are other highlights from the report:
- “Distributed solar has the potential to result in a downward pressure on rates.”
- “Generating from rooftop solar panels in Mississippi will most likely displace generation from the state’s peaking resources – oil and natural gas combustion turbines.”
- “Distributed solar is expected to avoid costs associated with energy generation costs, future capacity investments, line losses over the transmission and distribution system, future investments in the transmission and distribution system, environmental compliance costs, and costs associated with risk.”
These findings are similar to what other independent reports have recently concluded. Another cost-benefit study of net metering in Missouri released in 2015 found net metering is a net benefit for utility customers. Independent studies in Vermont, New York, Texas, and Nevada have all come to the same conclusion.
However, as Utility Dive points out, the report warns that the utilities in the state, including the two investor-owned utilities Entergy Mississippi and Southern Company’s Mississippi Power, distributed solar would decrease revenue and therefore, the value of solar in Mississippi should be calculated. Earlier this month, the Maine Public Utilities Commission released a study that gives a quantitative value of solar produced in the state. The report found that the value of solar power generated is 33 cents/kWh; this is a significant difference from the 13 cents/kWh customers in Maine who have solar panels receive as a credit today.
Entergy Mississippi filed comments against a net metering policy that would credit ratepayers at the retail rate, and not the avoided cost amount. However, the Southern Company subsidiary, Mississippi Power, is unopposed because it reached a settlement with the state chapter of the Sierra Club to diversify its power generation. In the agreement, the Sierra Club would cease its legal opposition to the Kemper coal gasification power plant, and Mississippi Power would remain unopposed to solar net metering.
The American Legislative Exchange Council is trying to silence critics for exposing their history of climate change denial, according to the Washington Post. ALEC sent cease-and-desist letters to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and Common Cause, demanding that the two organizations “cease making false statements” and to “remove all false or misleading material” that suggest ALEC does not believe in global warming. Common Cause and LCV have been vocal critics of ALEC’s anti-climate solutions work over the past few years.
Ironically, the facts show that ALEC supports the view that climate change is not an urgent problem, based on a review of ALEC’s model legislation, agenda, and speakers. A newly launched website (in which Energy & Policy Institute is a partner), www.ALECclimatechangedenial.org, documents how ALEC events promote a climate denial agenda, including inviting prominent climate deniers to their events in an effort to provide “motivation” for legislators to promote the ALEC agenda back in the state capitols. Below are a few of the highlights:
Update: The Oklahoman reported that the House approved SB 498 by a vote of 78-3. The bill eliminates a five year property tax-exemption for new wind energy developments. The Senate will now consider the House version.
Oklahoma has quietly become the 4th largest wind producing state in America after jumping several states in the rankings over the past few years. The panhandle and the northeastern part of the state have been seen as promising areas for further development, with strong winds and nearby transmission lines that enable cheap, clean electricity.
However, that was before one wealthy and influential landowner started spending big to single-handedly organize a campaign to halt future wind development.
Frank Robson, a multi-millionaire real estate developer, entered the wind energy debate last year when he found out a wind farm was planned near his ranch in Centralia, Okla. In those initial conversations, Robson was using the rhetoric of “NIMBYism” (not-in-my-back-yard). “Most people don’t move to the country to have an industrial unit right next to their house. How would you like to have a 495-foot turbine that goes whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, and never shuts down?” Robson told the local NPR affiliate. Never mind that most farmers and ranchers like wind turbines just fine, along with the drought-resistant cash flow that they produce on 20- to 25-year contracts.
Robson’s efforts to push back against wind energy developments in Oklahoma led him to hire lobbyists. One firm hired, FKG Consulting, is the largest lobbying firm in the state. FKG Consulting supplied Robson with a small army of consultants including a pollster, and devised a strategy that has transformed Robson’s image from angry wealthy landowner to tax consumer advocate. Robson’s consultants transformed his message by halting the NIMBY talk, and devised a plan to go after tax incentives that support wind; a cause polling showed would be more compelling to the public. Robson has also hired a local marketing expert, who then started a group called “Wind Waste,” to pull the incentives that wind energy receives in the state out of context.
FKG Consulting also represents multiple national and international clients in Oklahoma that have publically expressed a commitment to support renewable energy and/or sustainability development. Among them are Amazon, 3M, and Ernst & Young.
Additionally, since Robson has become more interested in ending any wind energy future for all of Oklahoma, he has stepped up his political giving; almost half of his recorded contributions to elected officials have come since 2014.
Robson’s work and money seemed to be paying off, when Sen. President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman authored a measure last year that would have placed a moratorium on wind development in northeastern Oklahoma. The bill was then run by then state senate energy chair, Cliff Branan, who received $4,500 in political contributions about a month-and-a-half after the bill began making its way through the senate in 2014. When the bill stalled, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) took up the endeavor at the request of Mr. Bingman and is currently considering restrictive new standards for wind farm locations.
Update: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is featuring the CARE report with members. Last year, ALEC's Board of Directors approved a model bill sponsored by the Edison Electric Institute to repeal net-metering legislation.
The policy and regulatory debates over solar net metering changes daily as developments unfold rapidly across the country. But one thing is certain: utility companies along with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) entered this debate fully aware that their business model was under threat from rooftop solar generation.
In fact, 2012 board documents revealed in The Washington Post shined a light EEI’s three-step action plan to slow the growth of distributed generation in their territories. While some utility companies are working with state regulators to better protect their customers and provide choices for ratepayers, many utilities are looking for reports to send lawmakers and commissioners that defend their outdated business model. One of these reports is from the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE), a 501(c)(3) based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
CARE sent a press release on March 10 publicizing their new white paper, “Solar Power in the U.S.: Lessons Learned and Guidance for Policymakers.” The report is intended to “educate both consumers and lawmakers about the various consequences of using solar energy.” Marita Noon, Executive Director at CARE and the organization’s 501(c)(4), Energy Makes America Great, authored the report. Noon is also listed as an “Expert” on The Heartland Institute’s website.
CARE is a fossil fuel-funded advocacy organization that opposes environmental activism and says that the pursuit of renewable energy will “end the America we know and love.” CARE also states that if solar and wind continues to emerge:
We will have a new earth--and it will not look much like the country people are risking their lives to get into. It will not be a super-power. Instead it will be a superconciousness, looking more like a hippie commune than the wealthiest nation in the world.