How is this year’s fight in Kentucky over net metering payments like a British plot to secretly undermine the Patriot war effort during the American Revolution?
Both involved counterfeiting. During the Revolution, the British came up with a plan to print fake Continental notes to destroy the American economy. Today, in Kentucky, the utility and fossil fuel lobby are funding a fake pro-solar group to fool voters into supporting a bill in the state legislature that could destroy rooftop solar in Kentucky.
Both plots are devious and manipulative — and involve abusing the public’s trust. The British plot ultimately failed to derail the Patriots’ revolt against King George III. Will today’s dirty energy plot succeed any better at killing the revolt of Kentucky’s citizens against monopoly utilities?
Counterfeiting in the Revolution, King George III Style
After Congress announced that it would start printing its own money to finance the American war effort, the British responded with a scheme to undermine the currency through counterfeiting. Based in British-occupied New York City, British counterfeiters hoped that flooding the market with fake Continental bills would create massive inflation and destroy the value of the Patriots’ money.
In January 1776, the British government began undermining American independence by attacking the American economy: it turned out great quantities of sham American money, advertising in New York’s Tory newspapers that “Persons going into other Colonies may be supplied with any Number of counterfeit Congress-Notes, for the Price of the Paper per Ream.”
It was the first recorded use of financial sabotage in warfare. Devaluing Continental currency would bankrupt Congress and keep it from supplying George Washington’s army with supplies desperately needed to continue the war effort, from boots, coats and ammunition right down to food for men who were so hungry they were eating the leather from the soles of their shoes.
While the scheme did hurt the Patriots’ finances, with help from France which donated both money and supplies to the revolutionary cause, the British counterfeiting plot did not destroy the Americans’ ability to make war.
Counterfeiting in Kentucky, Utility Style
Today, in Kentucky, a similar counterfeiting scheme is now threatening to kill rooftop solar in the state. But this time, the fraud doesn’t involve fake money, but instead, a fake activist group.
The Consumer Energy Alliance claims to be a group of ordinary citizens who support solar power. But in fact, CEA is a counterfeit. As the respected Energy and Policy Institute explains:
Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) likes to call itself “the voice of the energy consumer” but it really is a fossil fuel-funded advocacy group run out of the offices of the PR firm HBW Resources.
Headquartered in Houston, the world capital of the oil industry, CEA is funded not by memberships from ordinary citizens as a real consumers group would be, but instead by donations from fossil fuel companies.
Backers of CEA include major monopoly utilities such as Florida Power & Light, Ameren Missouri, Dominion Resources, Entergy, Public Service of New Mexico, and SCANA. Utility trade groups like the Edison Electric Institute, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Nuclear Energy Institute also are members.
These companies are no friends of rooftop solar, viewing homeowners making their own clean energy as a threat to the monopoly utility business model.
Of course, these companies know that solar is hugely popular in every state, including Kentucky. Utilities know that if they attack solar honestly, they’ll lose with the voters. To have any chance of winning, anti-solar forces know their only hope is to use dirty tricks to fool the public into voting against their own interest.
So, whenever the utility lobby wants to attack rooftop solar, they use front groups like CEA to try to deceive consumers. The front group will support some legislation or regulation that would kill or slow down rooftop solar. But they present this anti-solar policy as the opposite of what it really is — they claim that it’s “pro-solar.”
That’s just what’s happening in Kentucky now. Not a major solar state yet, Kentucky has only about a thousands home with solar panels so far, though the state’s solar industry employs about 1200 workers. But with good sunshine and thousands of homeowners who want to go solar, Kentucky has potential to get much more rooftop solar.
That’s exactly what monopoly utilities and fossil fuel barons want to stop.
So, they’re pushing a new bill in the Kentucky legislature to cut payments to solar homeowners by about 70%. And to sell this terrible legislation to Kentucky voters who love solar power and want more solar, the energy monopolies have unleashed their fake-pro solar group, the Consumer Energy Alliance. They’re trying to fool voters into thinking that this anti-solar legislation is actually pro-solar.
Counterfeit Pro-Solar Bill Threatens Kentucky’s Solar Future
As the Louisville Courier-Journal has reported, the Consumer Energy Alliance’s Kentucky rep Brydon Ross claims that his group wants more solar power in Kentucky. “We’re pro-solar,” Ross told the paper. “We want solar to grow.”
Ross’ group also claims that solar homeowners are free-riders. On the one hand, they sell their solar power back to the grid. On the other, they buy little or no power from the grid, so they’re not paying their fair share of upkeep. The CEA claims this means that low-income customers who can’t afford solar panels are subsidizing wealthy customers with solar.
This is a common argument used by the utility lobby around the country, and it has been refuted by independent research showing that the opposite is true: by providing power just when it’s needed the most, on hot days when utilities have to buy expensive power on the “spot” market to cover customer demand for air conditioning, solar homeowners give more back to the grid than they get back. As the Brookings Institution determined in 2016, “Net metering is a net benefit” to the grid.
Jamie Clark, a Lexington Republican activist who owns a solar installation company, told the Lexington Herald Leader that “When the benefits of home-generated solar power to the grid are factored in, there is no ‘subsidy’ or cost-shifting, many independent studies have shown. The purpose of this bill, he said, is to hurt free-market competition.”
“Don’t you think Time Warner Cable would like to go back 30 years and make it illegal to put a satellite dish on your roof?” he asked. “That’s effectively what this legislation is doing to residential solar.”
Yet, the fossil fuel and utility alliance keeps pushing their discredited argument to protect their profits. Thus, their front group the CEA is supporting House Bill 227 which would slash net metering payments to solar homeowners in Kentucky so dramatically as to kill the state’s solar industry. As the Courier-Journal explains:
The bill the alliance supports threatens to cut by more than two-thirds the credits residential solar customers can get back from utilities. That could double the years needed for solar investments to pay for themselves, from about 10 to 20, said Steve Ricketts, co-owner and general manager of Solar Energy Solutions, with offices in Louisville and Lexington.
The same group of utility and fossil fuel interests tried this same strategy in Florida in 2016. There, utilities funded a fake pro-solar front group called “Consumers for Smart Solar” to push Amendment 1, which would have made solar harder to get and more expensive in the Sunshine State. Fortunately, solar patriots like the Green Tea Party’s Debbie Dooley exposed the utility scam, helping Florida voters to see that the proposed ballot measure would actually destroy rooftop solar in Florida. As a result of hard campaigning by pro-solar forces, the effort failed.
I hope Kentucky voters will learn from Florida’s example, and tell their legislators to vote against this anti-solar wolf in pro-solar sheep’s clothing.
It’s just a counterfeit.
— Erik Curren, The Solar Patriot