Utilities In Florida Are Using A Fake Consumer Group To Hamstring Solar Competition

from the solar-sockpuppetry dept

Earlier this year, we noted how traditional utilities were playing extremely dirty in Florida to try and derail efforts to ramp up solar competition and adoption in the state most likely to benefit from it. After all, the vision of a future where competition is rampant, customers pay less money, and solar users actually get paid for driving power back to the grid gives most of these executives heartburn. As a result, utilities have gotten creative in the state, launching fake solar advocacy groups that actually function to pollute public discourse and derail any amendments intended to help solar grab a larger foothold in the state.

The key group in question is "Consumers For Smart Solar," which is funded by traditional utilities, but has actually been fighting tooth and nail against solar-friendly legislative efforts in the state that would lift the ban on the sale of solar panels by third parties. The group's website describes the organization this way:
"Consumers for Smart Solar is a diverse, bipartisan coalition of business, civic, and faith-based organizations working to promote solar energy without sacrificing commonsense consumer protections. We believe Florida needs more solar and that we have to do it the right way. That means protecting consumers from scam artists, rip-offs and long-term contract traps while ensuring that those who do not choose solar electricity are treated fairly, too."
The bogus pro-solar competition group hasn't just been fighting new legislation that would expand solar adoption in Florida (where thanks to AC the average household spends $1,900 a year on power, 40% higher than the national average), it has actively been pushing Amendment 1, regulation crafted by the utility industry the group claims "guarantees your right to place solar panels on your home." Except it does nothing of the sort, and was crafted specifically to protect incumbent utilities from competition once they eventually get around to embracing the future in 2050 or so.

That Amendment 1 is a ruse being pushed by incumbent utilities and a bogus solar advocacy group has generally been common knowledge in the state for much of the year. But in an amusing twist the last few weeks, a leaked audiotape exposed one local utility-tied Florida think tanker admitting that Consumers for Smart Solar Choice and Amendment 1 was a giant ruse to keep actual pro-solar competition supporters on their heels:
"(James Madison Institute in Tallahassee's Sal) Nuzzo called the amendment, which has received more than $21 million in utility industry financing, “an incredibly savvy maneuver” that “would completely negate anything they (pro-solar interests) would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road,” according to an audio recording of the event supplied to the Herald/Times.

...“To the degree that we can use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu and take what they’re kind of pinning us on and use it to our benefit either in policy, in legislation or in constitutional referendums — if that’s the direction you want to take — use the language of promoting solar, and kind of, kind of put in these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop."
The tactic of using think tanks and fake consumer groups working in concert to derail threatening legislation (or pass awful, protectionist legislation of their own) is something the telecom and other industries have engaged in for years, but it's just complicated enough to confuse the lion's share of voters. In this instance, Florida's utility think tank pals apparently decided to make things easier on consumers by admitting on tape the entire thing was a sham. Unsurprisingly, the "free market" think tank in question was forced to issue a statement claiming Nuzzo "misspoke":
“At an event with an unfamiliar, national audience, Mr. Nuzzo generalized his commentary and misspoke in reference to JMI partnering with Consumers for Smart Solar in any capacity,” McClure said in a statement.
Yeah, whoops a daisy.

Filed Under: advocacy, astroturf, energy, florida, solar


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2016 @ 2:16pm

    Re:

    Because they are too small, poor and busy to be able to expend money and management time on such risky undertakings. Such tricks indicate incumbents who have leveraged a near monopoly position into excess profits, and can afford to spend a little money to protect those profits.

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