NB Politicus

ALEC: Buying Influence and Tilting Laws Against Solar Energy

Posted in Campaign Finance, energy, environment, Money in Politics, Solar Energy by nbpoliticus on January 2, 2014

Let the Sun Shine In

Isaiah_Poole

Now the Koch brothers are coming after my solar panels.
I had solar panels installed on the roof of our Washington, D.C. home this year. My household took advantage of a generous tax incentive from the District government and a creative leasing deal offered by the solar panel seller.
caf-alec-Brookhaven National Laboratory

Brookhaven National Laboratory/Flickr
Our electric bills fell by at least a third. When people make this choice, the regional electric company grows less pressured to spend money to expand generating capacity and the installation business creates good local jobs. Customers who use solar energy also reduce carbon emissions.
What’s not to love?
According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative network better known as ALEC, our solar panels make us “free riders.” What?
Yes, according to ALEC, an organization that specializes in getting the right-wing agenda written into state laws, people like me who invest in energy-efficiency and shrinking our carbon footprints ought to be penalized.
Why does ALEC want us punished? Since it’s bankrolled by, among others, the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, it’s hard not to surmise that they’re worried about a threat to fossil fuels businesses. Koch Industries’ operations include refineriesoil and natural gas pipelines, and petrochemicals
That’s no conspiracy theory. Recently the British newspaper The Guardian wrote aboutthe assault on solar panels as part of a broader exposé on ALEC.
John Eick, the legislative analyst for ALEC’s energy, environment and agriculture program, confirmed to The Guardian that the organization would support making solar panel users pay extra for the electricity they generate. That’s already about to happen in Arizona, where homeowners who use solar panels will pay an average of about $5 extra a month for the privilege, starting in January.
The solar power industry called the new rule a victory only because power companies in the state were demanding assessments of as much as $100 a month — more than high enough to deter families from considering switching to solar.
Making solar energy cost-prohibitive for homeowners and businesses is part of a larger ALEC objective, affirmed at its recent annual meeting, to continue its effort to eliminate state renewable energy mandates.
According to meeting minutes, ALEC has already succeeded in getting legislation introduced in 15 states to “reform, freeze, or repeal their state’s renewable mandate.” ALEC lobbyists are pushing policies through states that will speed up climate change and increase pollution. They’re threatening the renewable energy industry, which is already creating new jobs and saving money for homeowners and businesses.
Without the current policy paralysis in Washington and a lack of bold, creative thinking about how to build a new, green economy at the national level, they wouldn’t be making so much headway.
My organization, Institute for America’s Future — together with the Center for American Progress and the BlueGreen Alliance — recently published a report that shows what’s at stake with ALEC’s destructive agenda.
Our “green industrial revolution” report recommends tying together a series of regional solutions that take advantage of the unique assets of each part of the country, such as the abundance of sun in the West and the wind off the Atlantic coast, into a cohesive whole.
These regional strategies would be supported by smart federal policies, such as establishing a price for carbon emissions and a national clean energy standard, creating certainty and stability in the alternative energy tax credit market, and providing strong support for advanced energy manufacturing.
This is the way to unleash the kind of innovation and job creation our economy — and our rapidly warming planet — desperately needs.
My solar panels are the envy of my block and I wish more of my neighbors will be able to make the same choice I did. But they won’t if fossil-fuel dinosaurs like the Koch brothers and right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council keep casting their dark clouds on efforts to build a clean energy future.
It’s time for them to step aside and let the sun shine in.
Isaiah J. Poole is the editor of OurFuture.org, the website of the Campaign for America’s Future. OurFuture.org
Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

An Energy Broker Comes To Town: City Considers 5-Year Deal With World Energy

Posted in energy, utilities by nbpoliticus on August 17, 2007

The days of your good, old, regulated electric light company are over.

That was abundantly clear at an August 16th meeting of the New Britain Common Council’s consolidated committee. City councillors heard officials of Worcester, MA-based World Energy Solutions explain how they can lower energy costs for the city by being an “honest broker” in a deregulated marketplace where electricity’s price is skyrocketing.

The New Britain meeting stemmed from a resolution filed by Council Minority Leader Louis Salvio that authorizes Mayor Stewart “to enter into a contract for a period of five (5) years with World Energy Solutions…for the procurement and contract management services to obtain the lowest energy prices for the city.”

Obtaining a lower price for electricity is a necessity for financially-distressed New Britain with current costs of power by the local government and schools approaching $4 million this year, according to Ward 2 Councillor Adam Platosz.

Platosz was the author of a resolution early in the year that asked the city finance department to seek “aggregator” status for New Britain in light of double digit electric rate hikes. Under state law, a city on its own can pursue bulk buying and even allow residential users to take advantage of bulk buying through the municipality to lower their bills.

While the Platosz resolution has been ignored for months by the city administration, the arrival of World Energy at the invitation of Mayor Stewart re-opens the debate on the best options the city has to lower its energy costs and perhaps lower rates for residents.

World Energy Solutions representatives delivered an impressive portfolio of their company to the sparsely attended council meeting.

The company, using a sophisticated online auction platform, essentially acts as an “energy realtor” — a term used by Council President Suzanne Bielinski in trying to understand procurement services. World Energy engages energy suppliers in bidding for the sale of power to their large customers, including states, the federal government and corporations.

Founded in 1996, World Energy describes itself as a leader in the “online energy brokerage market, providing technology and intelligence for brokering electricity, natural gas, wholesale power, fuels and green credits.” The company, one of a number now engaged in brokering energy, was created at a propitious time when de-regulation dramatically changed the way public utilities did business.

The de-regulated industry has spawned a system of generators (power plant operators), suppliers (energy sellers) and distributors (utilities). Lest you think Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) and United Illuminating (UI) will disappear, think again. CL&P and local utilities remain the distributors, owning the wires, poles and infrastructure that delivers the power. Most of us still pay the utility for both supply and distribution as CL&P and UI purchase power from suppliers twice a year, passing costs on to residential and business users.

World Energy and similar outfits now act as the “middle men” in an industry that once was strictly regulated on price, but now is subject to wild swings. Taking advantage of deregulation, the brokers are now the auction experts who go out and find the best price for a city or state government. They take their profits from the generator-supplier-distributor chain before it reaches users.

Jonathan Harvey, a World Energy government relations official based in Washington, D.C., informed the City Council that his company makes its money through “performance fees” in a procurement process that knows no state or national borders. He assured the councillors that “there is no direct cost to you.” According to World Energy its “online reverse auction platform” saves customers “an average of 11% compared with traditional paper-based approaches to energy procurement.”

While World Energy’s credentials impressed the city councillors, the proposal has been brought forward by the city administration without the customary requests for proposals and bidding process that would normally be part of a multi-year municipal contract. That will inevitably be brought up before a vote is taken on this particular proposal.

Council Majority Leader Michael Trueworthy asked how World Energy came to New Britain. Apparently, the Stewart administration has not shared anything with the Council, including Trueworthy who with Bielinski meets with the Mayor on a routine basis to discuss city business. Harvey, accompanied by Connecticut Marketing Director Bill Thibodeau, would only say that his company is knocking on the doors of Connecticut city and town halls because it has just won a State of Connecticut contract to provide procurement for state agencies.

A recently released press release from the company’s website confirmed the state deal: “We are pleased that the State of Connecticut has selected us as its online energy procurement solution, which we view as further validation of our position as the leading provider to U.S. government agencies at both the state and local levels.”

The proposal to authorize the Mayor to enter a five-year contract with World Energy Solutions deserves a thorough review and discussion by the Council. No matter what the outcome of engaging an energy broker, the discussion should also re-open Ald. Platosz’ original plan to give New Britain aggregator status, empowering the city not only to seek fairer rates for itself but creating a municipal “pool” whereby residents could realize savings too. Absent a state law that protects consumers from spiraling rates, New Britain needs to be an aggregator of its own power with or without World Energy’s services.