CO governor appoints PUC rep against solar advocates protest

CO governor appoints PUC rep against solar advocates protest

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper confirmed the appointment of Glenn Vaad (R) to the state public utilities commission over protests from solar energy advocates.

Thousands of petitioners opposed Vaad’s appointment because of his affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative lobbying group known for introducing legislation in more than a dozen states to eliminate renewable energy portfolio standards. Vaad served as of the group’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic development task force in 2011 and 2012.

ALEC counts the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobile and the Edison Electric Institute among its members. The Edison Electric Institute published a report in 2013 declaring distributed rooftop solar a “significant threat” to the central utility business model.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to hear arguments on Feb. 3 over an Xcel Energy request to cut net metering payments – credits on solar customers’ utility bills for the excess power they feed back into the grid – from 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 4.6 cents, something solar advocates say would cripple the state’s growing rooftop solar industry.

Several states have recently battled utility company challenges to net metering. California’s solar industry counts new legislation securing the future of net metering there as a victory. Arizona solar advocates triumphed when the Corporations Commission there voted to allow Arizona Public Service to raise rates for solar customers by up to $5 a month instead of the $50 to $100 the utility requested.

The Alliance for Solar Choice, a newly minted lobbying group for the solar industry, said it and other solar advocates spent about $350,000 campaigning to save net metering in Arizona while the utility and lobbyists spent $9 million.

Despite a major investment in unraveling net metering benefits and public support for distributed solar energy generation in Arizona, the utility lost.

TASC is watching Colorado carefully, considering it the next major battleground for net metering benefits.

With the PUC hearing on the horizon, solar advocates have been on high alert and were quick to oppose Vaad’s appoint once it learned of his involvement with ALEC. Watchdog group Common Cause even reported that Vaad received scholarships in 2006, 2007 and 2008 that included funds from Xcel Energy.

"There is a clear conflict of interest," said Gabe Elsner, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute said in a statement. "Vaad was a high-ranking representative of a corporate lobbying group that is coordinating a national attack on clean energy.”

When Hickenlooper announced on Jan. 7 that he was confirming Vaad, his assistant told the Denver Post that Vaad’s affiliation with ALEC couldn’t be considered in a vacuum. As a former member of the state House of Representatives, Vaad voted in favor of increasing renewable energy requirements for rural electric cooperatives and moves to replace aging coal-fired power plants with natural gas generation, according to the Denver Post article.

Vaad’s term has already started and one of the first issues he hears as a new member will be Xcel’s proposal to reduce net metering benefits.