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Utilities Get Beat Up in the Marketplace, Run Crying to Big Brother

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You knew it would happen. Companies that have been feeding the American People the addictive drug of cheap and easy electricity for a hundred years are beginning to feel the heat of new kind of competition: roof-top solar. People are flocking to energy independence, and releasing the tit of Big Electric, shifting the tide of electricity generation from the big plants to the solar and wind manufacturers.


It is only natural then that these monetary behemoths defend their food-source and attack the new animal on the block that’s stealing all their resources, and all is fair in the game of survival of the richest. So, to butcher another truism, if you can’t beat ’em, regulate ’em. In a Star-Wars-esque “Attack of the Clones”, ALEC-generated bill templates have been showing up in legislatures all across the country, and who is it that’s coming to the rescue?


Most of the bills that have been considered so far have been either rejected or vetoed, with the most-striking defeats coming in Republican strongholds, such as Indiana and Utah. There, anti-solar legislation came under a surprisingly fierce attack from free-market conservatives and even evangelical groups, many of which have installed solar panels on their churches.

— Joby Warrick, Washington Post

It turns out grassroots conservatives and Tea Party groups — those far enough from Washington — don’t like the idea of a state-run monopoly telling them they can’t generate and sell their own power. (See this great interview with Georgia Tea Partier Debbie Dooley, who’s currently battling it out with Koch-heads in Florida.) Turns out solar is popular and solar customers are a pretty active and organized constituency.

— David Roberts,

Really? The Republicans? Who knew? I never thought I’d ever say this but, Go Tea Party Go! You’ve finally discovered your purpose! However, where they’ve failed in the democratic process, they’re making headway with the commissions that voters have little control and money determines the law:

Where legislatures failed to deliver, power companies have sought help from regulatory agencies, chiefly the public utility commissions that set rates and fees that can be charged by electricity providers. Here, the results have been more encouraging for power companies.

— Joby Warrick, Washington Post

Yeah. Turns out that public utility commissioners, less in the public spotlight and less accountable to voters, are a lot more amenable to corporate lobbying and Koch money. So Arizona’s (horribly corrupt) utility commission has slapped new fees on solar homeowners. So has Wisconsin’s. New Mexico’s may follow suit soon. Similar efforts are underway across the country.

— David Roberts,

Really?!? Extra fees for NOT buying energy from local utilities? How is that in any way presenting a government that is for the people and by the people? David sums this up quite nicely:

Both of these trends reveal the same thing: Utilities, like most big, incumbent businesses, hate competitive markets. Once you’ve occupied the space, you want to shut the door behind you. But even more so than other big, incumbent businesses, utilities have access to regulators that can and will protect them from competition.

— David Roberts,

So there you go. Beware the bait and switch of rooftop programs that have anything to do with your local utility or are sponsored by your local utility commission.

When you do go solar, avoid the grid-tie, it might make sense on a cloudy day, but you’ll never be truly energy independent without cutting the umbilical cord of the grid. Just think, if you’ve got rooftop solar and there is a blackout in your area, will you still have power? The answer is probably NO! And your utility company has a list of excuses why. What is the point of energy independence if your panels are useless when you need them the most?