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Colorado Rooftop Solar Under Threat

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Originally published on Reviving Gaia
by Roy L. Hales

The relationship between Colorado’s rooftop solar industry and the state’s principal investor owned utility, Xcel, seemed good in 2012. Xcel had reason to be proud of the solar topped schools, homes and libraries that it had partnered with local installers on build. The utility’s annual reports mention being able to provide more electricity with a smaller carbon footprint.

Though it is not certain when the conflict began, Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor- owned electric companies, published a booklet identifying “Distributed energy resources (DER) as (p 4) “the largest near-term threat to the utility model.” Soon there were reports of problems between investor owned utilities and the rooftop solar industry in several states.

(There have also been reports of utilities that have seen the opportunity to work with rooftop solar, but that is another story.)

One of the dirtiest campaigns was fought in Arizona, where EEI and the state’s principal utility spent millions of dollars on negative publicity against the rooftop solar business.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, DC, a company that Mother Jonescalled “one of the nation’s most powerful—and least known—corporate lobbies” in America, was preparing  to attack solar’s development on another front.

Now, less than a month from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission hearing that could determine the fate of rooftop solar in that state, the Governor has appointed a high ranking member of that organization as Commissioner. Glen Vaad has been connected to the American Legislature Exchange Council (ALEC) since 2006. He has been appointed Commissioner just in time to decide if Xcel Energy can drop payments to rooftop solar from 11 to 4.6 cents.

The precise nature of the relationship between ALEC, Xcel and EEI  uncertain. Xcel belonged to both organizations prior to 2012. Rick Tempchin of EEI was filmed admitting that the Vice President of his organization is working with ALEC. All three organizations have opposed rooftop solar.

At their In 2012 Annual Meeting, ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Task Force adopted the “Electricity Freedom Act” as a model for states to repeal “the renewable energy mandate and as such, no electric distribution utilities and electric services companies will be forced to procure renewable energy resources as defined by the State of {insert state}’s renewable energy mandate.”

Echoes of this resolution subsequently appeared throughout America. The following list of 13 states, reprinted from Think Progress is of particular interest:

“While other lobbyists focus on the federal government, ALEC gives business a direct hand in writing bills that are considered in state assemblies nationwide. Funded primarily by large corporations, industry groups, and conservative foundations—including R.J. Reynolds, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute—the group takes a chain-restaurant approach to public policy, supplying precooked McBills to state lawmakers.”  – Mother Jones 

An expose in Common Cause revealed that ALEC derives 98% of its funding from big corporations and foundadtions. The group is believed to have raised more than estimated $4 million, since 2006, for “scholarships” to send legislators on trips where policy is decided.

Around 800 state legislators and business, including one of the key Republicans behind the recent government shutdown, former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, and the governors of Indiana and Wyoming, are believed to have attended the organization’s most recent conference.

Glen Vaad used to attend. He was one of the Colorado lawmakers whose name appears every year, in a list of  ALEC’s “scholarships” from 2006-2008. Vaad spoke on “The Devolution of State Highway Systems Study Act” in an afternoon session of ALEC’s 2010 “States and Nation Policy Summit.” He was the Task Force Chair of the American Legislature Exchange Council’s (ALEC) “Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force” in 2011 and thePublic Sector Chair at the Spring Task Force Summit in 2012. Glen Vaad subsequently received an “ALEC State Legislator of the Year”award.

Though Vaad’s connection has only recently been disclosed, it did not stop Governor Hickenlooper from appointing him to the Public Utilities Commission on January 8.

If the Colorado Senate approves Hickenlooper’s choice, Vaad will be one of the three men who will decide whether Xcel Energy can reduce the amount being paid to rooftop solar owner’s who are feeding power to the grid.

Concerned Colorado residents have started an online petition asking the Senate to reject this appointment. There were 812 signatures when this article was written and you can add yours by clicking here.

“With the appointment of the fox to run the henhouse (ALEC’s Glen Vaad as a Colorado Public Utility Commissioner) the destruction of the Colorado’s legislators’ work goes out the window,” one of the petitioners wrote. “This is on par with the Federal government allowing poultry processing plants to monitor their own cleanliness practices. Witness recent Consumers Report showing that nearly all chicken that we can purchase in stores is contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. These days there appears to be no protection for humans or the planet from the love of money.”

Another wrote, “Need to have some in the seat that doesn’t take a political stand. I’ve spoken with Glen Vaad on a few pending bills and I feel he is extremely partisan.”

Meanwhile, a week after informing customers that rates are about to increaseXcel reported earnings of $905 million and stated 2012 was “the eighth consecutive year in which we have met or exceeded our earnings guidance and for the ninth consecutive year we increased our dividend.”

(Photo at top of page: Rooftop solar energy supporters rally in Denver, before marching to the offices of utility corporation Xcel.)

Colorado Rooftop Solar Under Threat was originally published on: CleanTechnica.

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