The Wind Catcher project, a plan to build one of the nation’s largest wind farms, is starting to move forward despite attacks from front groups with ties to fossil fuel interests.
One of the groups, Americans for Affordable Energy, has refused to disclose its funders when asked by reporters. However, the individual who signed the group’s Articles of Incorporation has ties to the Hawthorn Group, the same Virginia-based public relations firm that was just exposed for hiring actors to support its client Entergy’s proposal to build a new natural gas power plant in New Orleans.
Another, Protect Our Pocketbooks, has said that its funders will remain anonymous, but the lobbyists and public relations firms involved its campaign against the Wind Catcher project have numerous ties to producers of natural gas.
Other Wind Catcher opponents, like Americans for Prosperity, are known to be funded by the Koch brothers. The Windfall Coalition, backed by Oklahoma-based oil and gas producer Harold Hamm, is also fighting the project.
The Arkansas Public Service Commission has already approved the Wind Catcher project, a 2,000 MW wind farm in the Oklahoma panhandle that would be owned by the Ohio-based utility company American Electric Power (AEP). Wind Catcher would provide clean energy to customers of AEP’s subsidiaries the Public Service Company of Oklahoma and Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO). The Wind Catcher project still needs the approval of regulators in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Americans for Affordable Energy, Inc.
One of the most misleading campaigns against the Wind Catcher project has ties to the Hawthorn Group.
Americans for Affordable Energy is the dark money group that’s behind Renewable Arkansas and Renewable Louisiana, two groups which pretend to be pro-solar but have no record of actually advocating in favor of any specific new solar projects or pro-solar policies. Instead, the groups have primarily worked to oppose the Wind Catcher project since they were launched a few months ago.
Americans for Affordable Energy, Inc. filed Articles of Incorporation to form a nonprofit corporation with the North Carolina Secretary of State on January 11, 2018. Renewable Arkansas launched with a website, videos, and Facebook and Twitter campaigns around the same time.
Andrew Portare is listed as the incorporator for the Americans for Affordable Energy, and he signed the group’s Articles of Incorporation. The Oakton, Virginia address that Portare provided on the document is also the home of Frank Klepadlo, the director of research at the Hawthorn Group.
“Born and raised in Clarksburg, West Virginia, Mr. Klepadlo currently lives in Oakton, Virginia with his fiancé Andrew,” according to Klepadlo’s bio on Hawthorn’s website. Portare’s “interests” on LinkedIn include the Hawthorn Group.
CT Corporation System is also listed as the “initial registered agent” for Americans for Affordable Energy, Inc.
Grant Tennille is a spokesperson for Renewable Arkansas, who previously worked for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Arkansas Electric Energy Consumers. Tennille has also appeared in a video for Renewable Louisiana.
Tennille wrote an op-ed against the Wind Catcher project that was published on the website Talking Business & Politics, which included Tennille’s email address at his consulting firm Bering Strategic Advisors.
Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times asked Tennille who was funding his work for Renewable Arkansas, and received what he called a “non-response response” from Tennille.
“You can see he provided no answers to my concerns about who’s paying for his work or the advertising, which included a full-page ad in the Wednesday Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,” according to Brantley.
Protect Our Pocketbooks
Protect Our Pocketbooks is behind another dark money campaign against the Wind Catcher project that has so far included TV ads aired in Arkansas and Louisiana, an online campaign, and statements to the media.
Protect Our Pocketbooks, Inc. was incorporated in Delaware in mid-December 2017 by The Corporation Trust Company, the same company that registered Americans for Affordable Energy, Inc. Its address is The Corporate Trust Center, located at 1209 Orange St. in Wilmington, Delaware. It’s similar to the address – 1209 North Orange St. – that’s been used to register more than 300,000 corporations, with the word “North” omitted.
The Corporation Trust Company is the name under which the CT Corporation System, the “initial registered agent” for Americans for Affordable Energy, does business in Delaware.
Delaware just “happens to be one of the easiest places in the world to set up an anonymous company,” according to the Sunlight Foundation.
But Protect Our Pocketbooks also has branches registered in Arkansas and Louisiana, where Justin T. Allen is listed as the group’s president, secretary, treasurer, and director. Allen, an attorney and lobbyist for Wright Lindsay Jennings, is also the public spokesperson for Protect Our Pocketbooks.
Allen’s firm has previously represented oil and gas producers, like Sewell Operating, Inc. and the Betsy Production Company. It also counts Entergy Arkansas among its current clients.
But Allen has refused to disclose who funds Protect Our Pocketbooks.
“As a 501(c)(4), as is it’s right to do under state and federal law, its supporters, its contributors are anonymous and they’re going to choose to remain that way,” Allen has said.
However, the Arkansas Secretary of State lists Protect Our Pocketbooks as a 501(c)(3), which means its donors may eventually have to disclose their contributions to the group in publicly available IRS filings. Either way, the group’s IRS filings may eventually reveal more information about who else is behind it.
Allen’s name also appears on issue ad disclosures on file with the Federal Communications Commission, which show that Protect Our Pocketbooks has paid to air ads in Arkansas on KNWA, KFTA, KARK, KHOG, KATV, and KTHV. Some of the ads targeted viewers in Little Rock, the state’s capitol.
Protect Our Pocketbooks also paid to air ads in Louisiana, which have appeared on WAFB, KALB, KTAL, KTBS, and WBRZ. One of the targets for the ads has been the state capitol, Baton Rouge. Another target has been Shreveport, where SWEPCO is headquartered.
Impact Management Group is registered as a lobbyist for Protect Our Pocketbooks in Arkansas. The firm reported a total $162,901 in expenditures for Protect our Pocketbooks on its lobbying reports for January, February, and March of 2018. Most of the money went to advertising.
Terry Benham and Sherry Dupre of Impact Management Group are registered as lobbyists for Protect Our Pocketbooks in Louisiana. Benham is also “the lead contract consultant for Arkansas’ largest producer of natural gas and has successfully fought excessive regulation for the natural gas industry in Arkansas,” according to the firm’s website.
In 2014, the Impact Management Group was “hired by the natural gas industry” to fight a proposal in Arkansas to increase the severance tax on the industry and “counter the public relations campaign being waged by environmental groups.”
The firm’s current clients include Entergy Arkansas.
Impact Management Group appears to be involved in running Protect Our Pocketbooks’ online campaign against the Wind Catcher project. The link impactmanagement.nationbuilder.com/login routes to a login page for ProtectOurPocketbooks.com.
Randy and Ryan Haynie of Haynie & Associates are also registered as lobbyists for Protect Our Pocketbooks in Louisiana. Other current clients of the Haynie’s include Cheniere Energy, the Lafayette Utilities Systems (LUS), and Louisiana Oilfield Contractors Association. The Hawthorn Group is listed on Haynie & Associates’ website as a past client.
Inveritas is yet another firm that’s registered as a lobbyist for Protect Our Pocketbooks in Arkansas. Its other current clients include BHP Billiton Petroleum.
Inveritas highlights its “Alternative Energy” portfolio on its website, a portfolio that has included work to promote natural gas for BHP Billiton, Chevron, and Chesapeake Energy. It also previously worked on a campaign to “educate voters on the harmful effects of raising Arkansas’ severance tax on natural gas” with a front group called Arkansans for Jobs and Affordable Energy.
The Windfall Coalition
The Windfall Coalition is backed by Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, a major producer of oil and gas, as well as other fossil fuel interests, including JMA Energy, and the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. A list of the group’s membership in 2016 can be found here.
The group filed as an intervenor in the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s (OCC) Wind Catcher case, represented by David E. Keglovits and Adam C. Doverspike of Gable Law. Keglovits filed “proposed findings of fact” in the case that made it clear the Windfall Coalition opposed the Wind Catcher project.
Tom Petrie of Petrie Partners, LLC testified before the OCC on behalf of the Windfall Coalition. Petrie described his firm as an “an energy focused investment banking firm that offers financial advisory services to the oil and gas industry” in his testimony.
Americans for Prosperity
Americans for Prosperity is running campaigns against the Wind Catcher project in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma. It’s backed by the Koch brothers, and has also had financial ties to coal producers like Alpha Natural Resources and, in Oklahoma, Peabody Energy.
Akash Chougule, the Virginia-based director of policy for Americans for Prosperity, filed public comments opposed to the project with the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
60 Plus Association
The 60 Plus Association is involved in a social media campaign against the Wind Catcher project that’s been targeting policymakers in Louisiana. Among the targets of #NoWindCatcherforLA are Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Public Service Commissioner Craig Green:
The 60 Plus Association has ties to the Koch political network, and has been in the news recently for its failure to pay most of a $50,000 fine from the Federal Election Commission. The group has also had financial ties to coal producer Peabody Energy.
Arkansas wasn’t fooled
In the case of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, many of the public comments on the Wind Catcher project were form emails generated by groups like Renewable Arkansas, Protect Our Pocketbooks and Americans for Prosperity.
Arkansas’s regulators weren’t fooled by these misleading attacks on one the nation’s largest wind power projects, and neither should those in other states where Wind Catcher awaits approval.
Simon Mahan, a renewable energy manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, provided information and documents used in this report.
Feature photo courtesy of the Beyond Coal and Gas Image Library. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
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