Q&A: ALEC’s new tactics to weaken renewable laws

This Q&A originally appeared in Midwest Energy News. 

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ALEC40Though bills meant to revoke or undercut renewable standards in numerous states failed last session, clean energy advocates say the model Market Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act proposed by ALEC’s energy task force during the conference pose a fresh threat.

The Market Power Renewables Act argues for a “voluntary market” that would allow people to invest in renewable energy if they choose without instituting mandates, and it claims that such an approach could lead to more renewable energy development overall.

The Renewable Energy Credit Act would expand the types of energy that would count toward credits. It would also remove caps on the proportion of an RPS that can be met through credits – a provision now enshrined in many states’ laws. And it would also allow the renewable standard’s full term – for example through 2025 – to be met in advance by bulk purchases of credits to meet future requirements.

The ALEC conference also included presentations by the American Petroleum Institute on local hydraulic fracturing bans; offshore energy as “good sense and good cents”; nuclear energy’s role in baseload electricity production; and the U.S. EPA’s “assault on state sovereignty,” hosted by a representative of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Gabriel Elsner, director of the pro-clean energy watchdog Checks and Balances Project, was among the advocates banned from ALEC’s meeting in Oklahoma City in May. Elsner was in Chicago for the recent conference, in an effort to learn more about state legislators’ and corporate executives’ ties with ALEC. The Checks and Balances Project also collaborated with the Center for Media and Democracy and Greenpeace to publicize ALEC’s confidential agenda and proposed model bills.

Midwest Energy News spoke with Elsner during his visit.

Midwest Energy News: Given that ALEC was unable to pass its bills last year, how serious a threat do these model bills pose to RPS standards and to renewable energy development as a whole?

Elsner: ALEC completely failed in 2013 to weaken or eliminate RPS laws. We’ve seen that because there’s bipartisan support for clean energy. Businesses and communities are seeing local economic development and job creation because of these laws.

ALEC’s new model legislation is a stealth attack on RPS’s. They are framed in a way that makes them seem pro-clean energy, but would open up RPS’s to allow sources of electricity – from large hydropower to landfill gas — to be included in state laws that are supposed to incentivize clean energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. The net effect would be reduced incentives for local, clean energy development in states that adopted this new bill.

ALEC’s proposed “Market-Power Renewables Act” doesn’t mention hydropower or landfill gas – how do you figure it would allow such energy to be counted toward RPS compliance?

This bill as written would open up the market to the different registries that regulate renewable energy credits. For example, in Kansas, your renewable energy credits are regulated by a different entity than in California. But if Kansas passes this law, they could buy RECs from hydropower plants in California or Oregon to fulfill the entire RPS.

That’s already allowed in some states, how would this law be different?

I looked at the regional registries for RECs listed in the model bill. REC registries define renewable energy differently – some include hydropower plants as large as hundreds of megawatts. Others include landfills gas and biomass projects.

ALEC’s new model bills would create a lowest common denominator that would weaken the traditional RPS’s by allowing out-of-state RECs to fulfill the entire RPS. If building a wind turbine in Kansas cost a dollar and five cents but you could go out and buy an REC for a dollar from a hydropower plant in Maine, the utilities would go out and buy a credit and not build the local clean energy project. It would eliminate the economic benefit and jobs in the state.

Palmer-House-Phillip-CantorWhat exactly is an ALEC model bill and where does it go from here?

The bills were discussed by the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force on Friday and voted on by a combination of corporate representatives like AEP and Exxon Mobil and legislators who sit on the task force. Once it passes the task force, a bill goes to the executive board of ALEC. [If the board approves,] it becomes a model bill and is sent out to ALEC legislators across the country.

Who are ALEC legislators?

ALEC doesn’t publish a list of which legislators are members. The Center for Media and Democracy has compiled a list at ALECExposed.org. Right now, we know that about 25 percent of all state legislators are members of ALEC. Legislators who attacked RPS’s last year were in Chicago for the conference.

At the conference ALEC also discussed a model resolution supporting grid modernization. This would appear to put ALEC on the same page as clean energy groups. Is their support really a way to introduce curbs on improving the grid or promoting renewables on the grid?

It would be great if utilities were for grid modernization because it could lead to more clean energy development, smart meters, net metering. But more likely is that members of the ALEC energy task force are supporting grid modernization to maximize the benefits to the utilities at the expense of ordinary consumers.

It’s also a model resolution – not model legislation – so it lacks any details on what pieces of grid modernization they would actually support. The model resolution supports cost recovery by utilities, but would they support the increased use of smart meters and net metering?

If model bills don’t benefit the utilities and other fossil fuel interests funding ALEC, it’s probably not going to pass the task force.

ALEC calls for the possibility of buying renewable energy credits from businesses and private citizens. Might this in a sense further the goal of distributed energy and create incentives for people or businesses to generate their own renewable energy?

In theory this could lead to increased use of clean energy by opening up a voluntary market for RECs. But it’s more likely that opening the RPS to large existing hydro and other sources of electricity would water down the market and undermine in-state clean energy development.

It’s important to point out that RPS’s are already driving clean energy investment. In Kansas alone, it resulted in $3 billion of private sector investment in clean energy last year. These policies are working – if the members of ALEC really want to support clean energy they should work to increase the RPS standards.

The ALEC energy task force also passed a resolution to oppose a carbon tax. How much political significance does this have, especially given that ALEC works on the state level, and a carbon tax would be federal?

[The resolution] is a problem because it is a message to our national representatives in Congress. If state legislatures start passing resolutions against a carbon tax, it would send a strong message to people in Washington, D.C. that a carbon tax is not politically feasible.

What do groups hope to accomplish by publicizing ALEC’s agenda and model bills?

Transparency is always a good thing. ALEC for far too long has operated behind closed doors – lobbying our state legislators on behalf of their corporate members. The Checks and Balances Project is trying to bring accountability to that process by showing the public that major fossil fuel interests are working to impact our energy policy through ALEC.

Have these efforts had an impact already, such as with the failure of the bills in the past year?

I think that they have certainly mobilized people who are in favor of clean energy. ALEC’s attacks on clean energy mobilized businesses and other allies to defend these important policies. I think these attacks on something as popular as clean energy is also having an impact on ALEC itself, with many corporations deciding to leave ALEC because of the controversy surrounding the organization.

In regards to ALEC’s energy work, it’s no surprise that they are launching the next attack on clean energy policies. ALEC is a front group representing major fossil fuel interests, that see the growth of the clean energy industry as a long-term competitive threat.

Fossil Fuel Interests Continue Attacks on Clean Energy Policies

This response was originally posted at National Journal’s Energy Insiders blog, which asked energy experts this week, “How Bright Is Renewable Energy’s Future?”

The outlook for clean energy remains strong because smart investments like state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are combining with technological innovation to produce tremendous growth for the industry and tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs. These policies have successfully stood up to forceful attacks from entrenched fossil fuel interests in more than a dozen states in the past year. Washington should take note that the public supports and wants more energy from renewable sources.

At the state level, fossil fuel interests have worked through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to weaken or eliminate RPS, because the clean energy industry poses a competitive threat to their market share. State renewable energy standards are projected to add enough new renewable power capacity by 2025 to power 47 million homes.

So, it’s no surprise that fossil fuel interests like American Electric Power, Peabody Coal, ExxonMobil and others are working to rollback renewable energy laws. These corporations that sell electricity produced from coal and natural gas are in direct competition with electricity generated from clean energy sources. This year, ALEC members and fossil fuel-funded front groups worked to rollback RPS laws in at least 13 states. But, a bipartisan coalition of business leaders, farmers and clean energy advocates stopped them in their tracks. Of all the bills proposed by ALEC members to weaken or eliminate RPS, 0 out of 13 passed, including in key target states like Kansas, Missouri and North Carolina.

Despite failing completely in 2013, ALEC’s energy task force met last week to propose new model bills that would effectively gut RPS laws by allowing large, existing hydro and landfill gas and other electricity sources from out-of-state to count towards the Renewable Portfolio Standards. The Market-Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act would let utilities meet the clean energy standards by purchasing credits from out-of-state companies instead of generating or buying their own clean energy. In effect, the new model bills would eliminate incentives for in-state clean energy investment that are creating jobs and economic opportunities. Since their inception 10 years ago, RPS laws have leveraged over $100 billion in private sector investment in clean energy in 29 states.

ALEC and fossil fuel-front groups are lobbying our state representatives and spreading disinformation behind closed doors to attack pro-clean energy laws. With energy policy mostly stalled at the federal level, fossil fuel-funded attacks on the state level will continue and likely ramp up in the future, posing a major threat to the clean energy industry and the policies that support its growth.

After Fossil Fuel Front Group Attacks on Clean Energy Fail, New Model Bill Emerges to Weaken RPS Laws

ALECFossilFuelFundersMembers of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), including fossil fuel corporations and front groups, will meet in Chicago this week to discuss their next round of attacks on clean energy policies. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), The Checks & Balances Project (C&BP) and Greenpeace released ALEC’s confidential model bills and agenda ahead of their Annual Meeting taking place in Chicago, that include a new anti-clean energy model bill, “The Market-Power Renewables Act.”

 “A little sunlight is a powerful force for good. ALEC is trying every trick in the book to keep the agenda of their upcoming meetings secret,” said Nick Surgey of The Center for Media and Democracy. “They are even claiming every state’s public record laws don’t apply to them. This is preposterous. The ALEC documents that CMD obtained show that ALEC is continuing to scheme on behalf of fossil fuel corporations, working together to undermine state’s efforts to promote renewable energy production.”

 “The Market-Power Renewables Act” will likely serve as the model for another round of attacks on state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in 2014 following ALEC’s failure to weaken or eliminate clean energy policies this year. The new bill would significantly weaken state clean energy laws by broadening the eligible electricity sources to include existing, large hydroelectric power plants, biomass, biogas and other sources of electricity.

 “Fossil fuel-backed efforts to rollback clean energy laws in states across the country have failed, including in at least three critical battleground states,” said Gabe Elsner, Director of C&BP. “It’s no surprise that ALEC is pushing a new model bill that would eliminate incentives for in-state investments in clean energy. These policies are boosting investment in the clean energy industry and creating jobs, which poses a major threat to fossil fuel interests.”

Despite a robust lobbying effort from fossil fuel corporations and fossil fuel-funded front groups, ALEC and its allies lost in the critical battleground states of Kansas, North Carolina and Missouri. Bipartisan majorities defeated ALEC’s model legislation this year, after ALEC legislators in at least 13 states sponsored or co-sponsored legislation to weaken or eliminate RPS laws.

But despite complete failure in 2013, ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn indicated that attacks on clean energy laws would resume in 2014.

 “Fossil fuel-funded front groups connected to the Koch-funded State Policy Network and ALEC advocated to repeal or weaken RPS laws in at least 14 states,” said Connor Gibson of Greenpeace. “Many of these front groups published flawed economicreports written by the fossil fuel-funded Beacon Hill Institute to inflate the cost of RPS and ignore the economic benefits of the pro-clean energy laws.”

Report: Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page

Update: The report was covered in E&E News (subscription), Mother Jones, Think Progress and DeSmogBlog. Click-through for more on our groundbreaking research on fossil fuel-funded groups in the media.

Fossil fuel-funded front groups, commonly referred to as “think tanks” or “institutes”, have been secretly influencing the media and the public on energy issues by moving pro-fossil fuel messaging.

These groups, and their proponents, have been quoted on average every other day for the past five years in 60 of the largest mainstream newspapers and publications. Despite having received millions of dollars from fossil fuel interests, such as ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, these groups’ financial ties to the fossil fuel industry are rarely mentioned.

The Checks and Balances Project’s report, “Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page,” uncovered the extent of this deception by focusing on the 10 most prominent fossil fuel front groups’ traction in 58 of the largest daily newspapers, the Associated Press and Politico. This analysis does not include mentions in broadcast, radio or online publications for these 10 advocacy groups.  As a result, this report only scratches the surface on these fossil fuel-funded groups’ influence on the energy debate.

Fossil fuel-funded advocacy groups’ failure to divulge their ties to the fossil fuel industry in one story is regrettable, but doing it in over 1,000 stories appears to be planned deception.

Here is a summary of the report findings (download a PDF of the report here):

1. Fossil fuel interests have provided at least $16.5 million to 10 organizations from 2006-2010.
Organizational Recipients of Funding

2. Fossil fuel-funded organizations used targeted, focused messaging to support fossil energy sources and attack clean energy.

Media Mentions by Topic

3. Within a five-year period, these groups and their personnel have been mentioned on energy issues at least 1,010 times in major daily newspapers, averaging four mentions a week – or more than once every other day.

Number of Energy Issue Placements for Each Organization 2007-2011
4. Media descriptions of these organizations (beyond their name) were not included in a majority of mentions. If described, descriptions typically focused on the organizations’ function (e.g., “think tank”) or location (e.g., “DC-based”), not their motivation. Almost all of the rare descriptions of motivation used self-identified ideology (i.e., “conservative,” “free market” or “libertarian”), not their financial ties to fossil fuel interests.

How Organizations Are Described

5. Media outlets routinely omitted any mention of the financial ties between the 10 organizations and the fossil fuel interests providing funding. The link between fossil fuel funders and organizations was described only 6% of the time.

Major Metropolitan Dailies with No Mention
6. These organizations received heavier coverage in influential newspapers that help shape the national agenda, including Politico, The Washington Post, USA Today and The New York Times.Appearances in National Newspapers

7. Despite being labeled as “free market” or “libertarian,” these organizations focus their criticism almost exclusively on clean energy policy investments. They make few – if any – references to government support for fossil fuels.

These findings will hopefully encourage more disclosure in our nation’s top media outlets. The Checks & Balances Project suggests a simple question to ask pundits and experts being quoted, cited or published in the media: “Do you get money, directly or indirectly, from interests that stand to benefit from what you are saying?”

With more transparency, members of the American public will know when an opinion may be biased and will be better informed on these critical questions about our energy future.

Fossil Fuel-Funded Think Tank Promulgates “Study” Attacking Wind and Solar

The Heartland Institute, which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry, including Koch Industries, rightly came under criticism this week for its secretive role in promulgating anti-climate change science.

Sadly, fossil fuel-funded efforts to spread misinformation using benign-sounding front groups don’t stop with climate change. The fossil fuel industry has also used this strategy of third-party front groups to attack clean energy technologies.

Just last month the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) released a new series attacking the renewable energy industry. AEI has received at least $11.8 million from the fossil fuel industry, including Koch Industries, according to public IRS 990 forms recently obtained via Media Matters’ Conservative Transparency.

When you look at AEI’s funding and relationships, you see a clear connection to fossil fuels that never gets mentioned in their reports. Read more of this post

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