In the days after Arizona Public Service asked the Arizona Corporation Commission for permission to levy hefty fees on solar customers or slash their net metering credits, a political and publicity battle has been bubbling.
Nonprofits Prosper and 60Plus have aired commercials and paid for advertisements damning rooftop solar companies Sunrun and SolarCity as “out-of-state billionaires” and claiming that current net metering policy, which gives solar customers credit for the power they produce at the retail rate, provides unfair subsidies to solar customers while driving up costs to other utility clients.
But the source of funding for the advertisements and secrecy surrounding the anti-solar campaign’s backers has created controversy.
Arizona solar advocacy group Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK) argues the “shady ads” aren’t supported by grass roots organizations at all, but are instead funded by APS. The theory is bolstered by the unusual circumstance of conservative Virginia-based 60Plus running an Arizona-focused ad.
The Arizona Republic published a story July 12 linking APS paid consultant Sean Noble to the conservative 60Plus organization known for fighting tax issues on behalf of seniors. The group, known also for having notorious backers such as David and Charles Koch, received $9 million from Noble, according to The Republic story.
The organization created a video advertisement against rooftop solar in Arizona, specifically targeting fast-growing companies Sunrun and SolarCity that specialize in third-party-owned systems that allow homeowners to lease rather than buy solar panels. APS spokesman Jim McDonald told the newspaper that he didn’t know if APS was funding the campaign against solar.
“Was it made with resources that could have originated with APS? I don’t know,” McDonald told The Republic. “We are not directly funding them. We didn’t write the script, review the script.”
TUSK organizers question the truthfulness of McDonald’s pubic statement.
“APS is either giving shareholder dollars to a consultant without giving him work to do in return for that money or they are telling him what to do and they are using their deep pockets to wage an anti-solar campaign while hiding behind third parties,” reads a press release from the solar advocacy group.
Organizations with political messages should be obliged to put their names on the messages, according to the release. TUSK displays its name on every message it disseminates. But recent legislation has made it easier for corporations to fund secret campaigns like this one, making it look like public sentiment is behind them, when in reality the only supporter the cause has could be the company likely to be impacted by a growing solar energy market – APS.
“It’s disappointing to see APS hiding behind consultants and political action committees,” TUSK chairman Barry Goldwater JR. said. “If they feel so strongly about their anti-solar messaging, then let them put their name on it.”