Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) likes to call itself “the voice of the energy consumer” but it really is a fossil fuel-funded advocacy group run out of the offices of the PR firm HBW Resources. HBW is headed by David Holt, Andrew Browning, and Michael Whatley. A 2017 visit by a representative of the Energy and Policy Institute to CEA’s office in Lexington, Kentucky revealed that the office instead belonged to HBW Resources.
HBW Resources received half of CEA’s expenses in 2016 according to the latest IRS 990 filing by CEA.
In fact, HBW Resources has received over a million dollars from CEA over the past several years. LittleSis has illustrated the relationship between the consulting firm HBW Resources and CEA.
A 2015 investigation by The Institute for Southern Studies found that the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition (OCSGC), “is largely run and managed by two groups tied to the oil and gas industry” HBW Resources and the CEA. BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon, Shell and Norway’s Statoil are some CEA financial backers, and many of these companies also happen to have deep ties to the Alberta tar sands. CEA supports lifting moratoria on offshore and land-based oil and natural gas drilling, and encourages the creation and expansion of petroleum refineries and easing the permitting process for drilling.
CEA claims to be “pro-solar” but is an anti-solar utility front group
Consumer Energy Alliance has also attacked policies supportive of solar energy, while deliberately misleading the public with claims that it is “pro-solar.” In September of 2016, CEA released a report criticizing solar tax credits and solar net metering, which compensates solar customers for the excess solar energy they sell back to their utilities. The report admittedly ignores the robust studies that quantify the values of solar power, which are substantial. The CEA report also confuses rebates offered by utilities with government policies and criticizes third-party solar ownership models.
While CEA provides grist for attacks on solar policies, it cynically claims to be “pro-solar,” including a petition on its web site with misleading language for the public to sign, including: “As American energy consumers, we call on policy makers to create policies that are pro-solar, pro-grid and pro-consumer.”
Aside from that vague petition, all of CEA’s actual policy positions are in favor of fossil fuel investment. A microsite that CEA maintains, www.solarenergyfuture.org, offers no pro-solar advocacy, and thinly-veiled utility attacks on rooftop solar companies.
The strategy of appearing to promote solar while attacking it is straight from the utility industry’s playbook, both in terms of its revamped “pro-clean energy” messaging designed to confuse, and its political tactics. Florida Power & Light, a CEA member, was the leading funder of Amendment 1, a Florida ballot initiative with confusing “pro-solar” language, but which could cripple the already stunted solar market there. CEA also supported Amendment 1.
In addition to Florida Power & Light, other utility backers of CEA include Ameren Missouri, Dominion Resources, Entergy, Public Service of New Mexico, and SCANA. Utility trade groups like the Edison Electric Institute, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Nuclear Energy Institute also are members.
In February 2018, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) spoke on the Senate floor to explain how lobbyists “created this fake consumer group” and noted how CEA had been promoting legislation in Kentucky to weaken the state’s net metering policy.
Watch @SenWhitehouse expose "fake consumer group" @CEAorg for creating a "fake initiative" in Kentucky called "Kentuckians for Solar Fairness." The group is supporting legislation – HB 227 – that would kill net metering in Kentucky and take away a homeowner's choice to go solar. pic.twitter.com/JdQdPcA2y1
— TASC (@alliance4solar) February 15, 2018
CEA works with Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE), which is also an anti-clean energy front group that often advocates for the positions of fossil fuel and utility interests, and has close ties to the Southern Company and its subsidiaries. PACE has promoted and hosted commentary by CEA on the benefits of fracking for Florida.
CEA has been caught repeatedly submitting fraudulent letters
In 2014, Consumer Energy Alliance was caught submitting a fraudulent petition which attacked net metering and defended utility companies’ fixed-rate increase proposals in Wisconsin. CEA submitted names of 2,500 state residents that “supported” the utilities’ proposals. It was revealed that certain people on the CEA petition were in fact against the proposal. The PSC then dismissed the petition saying it would not be included in the record.
In September of 2016, a group of Ohio property owners asked the postal inspection service and FERC to conduct a criminal review of CEA. CEA had sent 347 letters to FERC supportive of a pipeline proposed by Nexus Gas Transmission, using the names of local residents, including an Ohio man who has been dead since 1998. The complaint can be viewed on FERC’s website, and includes affidavits from 14 Ohio residents who deny writing letters approving the pipeline as well as giving permission to the CEA to write letters on their behalf. Spectra Energy is a partner in the construction of The Nexus Gas Transmission line. It is also a member of CEA.
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