In the latest political wrangling over rooftop solar power, it’s the career politicians and the utility companies on one hand and environmentalists joined by tea party conservatives on the other. The current struggles in Indiana and Florida highlight a rising solar movement asserting itself against political backroom deals.
In Indiana, the traditional electric utility companies want to raise “tariffs, rates and charges” on customers who generate their own electricity. The lobbying group for the utility companies, the Indiana Energy Association, has gotten Republican Rep. Eric Koch to sponsor their legislation to allow them to charge customers who generate their own electricity these tariffs, rates and charges not imposed on other customers. Mr. Koch is a big player in Indiana politics, being the Assistant Majority Caucus Chair. Mr. Koch has been in the Indiana legislature since 2002 and currently serves as the Chair of the Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee. Needless to say, raising the fees charged to customers with their own solar systems would discourage those customers from installing more solar power.
Opposing the legislation is the state chapter of the NAACP, the Citizens Action Coalition, the Center for American Progress, the Alliance for Solar Choice, and the Sierra Club. Conservatives arrayed against the bill include the Christian Coalition for America, and Barry Goldwater Jr’s Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed (TUSK) . Churches against the bill include the seven congregations of Indianapolis’s Eastside Creation Care Network.
The Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee has approved the bill and passed it on to the whole House after denying 34 of the 42 people signed up to speak against the bill an opportunity to give their testimony. It was a straight Republican party-line vote, but clearly some Republicans aren’t happy. Indy Star
Meanwhile, Republicans in Florida have organized a ballot initiative to allow homeowners to enter into solar power purchase agreements. Under a typical solar power purchase agreement, the homeowner allows a company such as SolarCity to install solar panels on their roof and agrees to buy the power from those panels at a rate lower than that offered by the local electrical utility. It’s an attractive arrangement – no money down, lower your monthly payments and help the environment. But Florida law prohibits the sale of electricity to consumers by anyone other than a regulated public utility. Each utility company has their designated service area and operates as a monopoly within that service area.
Floridian Tea Party members have now organized the Conservatives for Energy Freedom which is aiming for more than 700,000 signatures on a petition for a 2016 ballot initiative which would make it possible for businesses and property owners to produce up to 2 megawatts of solar power and sell it directly to consumers. The group Floridians for Solar Choice has gathered endorsements from conservative groups including the Christian Coalition of America, Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, Florida Retail Federation, Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, Libertarian Party of Florida, Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, Republican Liberty Caucus of Tampa Bay, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, WTEC and support from groups across the political spectrum including Clean Water Action, Environment Florida, Evangelical Environmental Network, Greenpeace USA, IDEAS for Us, Physicians for Social Responsibility, ReThink Energy Florida, Sierra Club Florida, and The Tea Party Network. They’re also getting support from the conservative Heartland Institute and constitutionalist Hillsdale College.