Right-wing lawmakers gunning for US solar users

Conservative forces in the United States are putting PV consumers in the crosshairs, according to an article in the U.K newspaper The Guardian on Wednesday.

The paper reports that an alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilizing to penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels in what the article says is "a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy."

Some 800 U.S. state legislators that make up the politically conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are gathering this week in Washington, D.C., for the organization’s State & Nation Policy Summit. The council’s agenda has taken aim at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has played a key role in implementing the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, which includes significant investments in clean energy technology and energy efficiency, carbon pollution standards for power plants and global partnerships to reduce deforestation and advance low emission development.

ALEC, however, sees the EPA as a menace, saying on its website that the agency "has started waging war on the American standard of living. During the past few years, the agency has undertaken the most expansive regulatory assault in history on the production and distribution of affordable and reliable energy."

The conservative group blasts the EPA for regulations that "are causing the shutdown of power plants across the nation, forcing electricity generation off of coal, destroying jobs, raising energy costs, and decreasing reliability."

Citing policy documents published by the group, The Guardian reports that the council will promote legislation over the coming year that would penalize homeowners, weaken state clean energy regulations and block the EPA.

Specifically, the group is looking to hinder state government efforts to promote the expansion of solar and wind power through regulations, known as Renewable Portfolio Standards. Among the proposed bills is the "Electricity Freedom Act," which would repeal states’ requirement that utilities provide a certain amount of their electricity supplies from renewable energy sources.

The Guardian quotes John Eick, ALEC’s legislative analyst for energy, environment and agriculture, who told the paper that in the coming year, the group would examine how homeowners with solar panels are compensated for feeding surplus electricity back into the grid.

The council wants to lower the rate electricity companies pay homeowners for direct power generation and possibly charge homeowners for feeding power into the grid, Eick said.

"As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system. They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non-direct generation customers are being penalized," Eick told The Guardian, adding that homeowners who install solar panels "should be paying to distribute the surplus electricity."

The Guardian points out that Arizona became the first state to begin charging customers for installing solar panels in November. Homeowners who have installed solar panels in the state have to pay a monthly fee of around $5, which the newspaper notes is far lower than what the state’s main electricity company had sought, which was up to $100 a month.

Gabe Elsner, director of the Energy and Policy Institute, told The Guardian that the assault on small-scale solar was part of ALEC’s efforts to block clean energy. "They are trying to eliminate pro-solar policies in the states to protect utility industry profits," he said.

The report adds that the group sponsored nearly 80 energy bills in 34 states last year, including measures targeting renewable energy standards, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would transport synthetic crude oil from Canada and crude oil from the northern United States to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, and barring oversight on fracking, according to an analysis by the Centre for Media and Democracy.