The Koch Brothers' Dirty War on Solar Power

February 12, 2016
Tim Dickinson
Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Rolling Stone Magazine published an excellent article about The Koch Brother's Dirty War on Solar. It provides an excellent overview and summary of their tactics nationally. The article points out that both environmentalists and the Tea Party support solar. Here are a few short snippets from the complete article. 

All over the country, the Kochs and utilities have been blocking solar initiatives

...Solar poses a grave threat to those who profit from burning fossil fuels. And investor-owned utilities, together with Koch-brothers-funded front groups like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are mounting a fierce, rear-guard resistance at the state level – pushing rate hikes and punishing fees for homeowners who turn to solar power. 

Florida is an extreme example of utility-funded efforts to thwart the rise of solar power at the state level. But it's not unique. Major utilities across the nation are seeking to undermine competition from rooftop solar by hiking its cost. "The utilities have realized they're completely up a creek without a paddle," says Shah, who sees the utilities lashing out at solar not from a position of strength but of desperation. "They can certainly fight it. But they're going to lose."

The utilities are working from a playbook developed by ALEC ...and the Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade group. The political argument advanced by ALEC and EEI is that rooftop solar generators are freeloaders on the traditional grid infrastructure: They rely on conventional power when the sun isn't shining, but because they sell power back to the grid, they don't pay much on net. An ALEC report on rooftop solar implausibly holds up utilities as champions of the economically vulnerable, arguing that net metering creates a "regressive tax, subsidizing the rich by picking the pockets of the poor."

Such arguments ignore the clear value rooftop solar producers create for other customers on the grid – including producing power at times of peak demand and adding resiliency against outages. Most obvious: Rooftop solar producers pay for their own equipment and volunteer their real estate – avoiding expenditures by utilities that would otherwise get passed along to ratepayers. A 2013 study for Arizona's largest utility found the benefits of rooftop solar "exceed the costs by more than 50 percent."

Over time, Dooley believes, solar power will win out, not only on the economics, but because there's nothing partisan about it. In fact, she says, solar power is one of the few things on which Democrats, Republicans and independents can find common ground. "Who doesn't want to be able to have solar panels on their rooftops?" Dooley asks. 

Other than the monopoly utilities and the Koch brothers, who have their backs, she asks, "Who doesn't want energy freedom?"

Read more: RollingStone 
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