Columbus, OH -- Special interest groups are working in coordination with local utilities to stall the growth of rooftop solar here in Ohio, according to a new report released Thursday by Environment Ohio Research & Policy Center and Ohio PIRG Research and Policy Center. In Ohio, FirstEnergy has targeted pro-solar policies like net-metering and other benefits.
The report, Blocking Rooftop Solar, pulls the curtain back on the playbook promoted by a national network of pro-fossil fuel lobbying groups and adopted by many utilities. These groups are campaigning to stop the growth of rooftop solar in Ohio, Florida, Illinois, California, Kansas, South Carolina and at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This years-long, multi-state effort involves coordinating strategies, tactics and funding for anti-solar campaigns. Specifically, their plan includes:
Restrictions on or the elimination of net metering programs.
New fixed charges on solar power system owners.
To win these changes, special interests create “astro-turf” front groups with neutral names like the Consumer Energy Alliance, in an attempt to influence decision makers to support anti-solar legislation or regulations.
“Rooftop solar is helping to clean up the air in our communities and empowering homeowners and businesses to generate their own electricity,” said Renewable Energy Advocate Ben Sonnega. “Utilities and special interests are putting up obstacles to rooftop solar’s success, and it’s wrong-headed, bad for Ohio and must be stopped. Utilities are meant to be a public good, but there’s nothing good about them undermining solar.”
Utility profits come mostly from capital investments in the electric system, like new central power plants or large transmission line projects. Rooftop solar energy challenges traditional utility profit models by putting the generation of power in the hands of consumers, and by reducing the need for large, centralized grid infrastructure and fossil fuel power plants.
Ohio has emerged as a disturbing example of how aggressive utility anti-solar campaigns and spending have resulted in policy changes that undermine rooftop solar power. Backed by $60 million in “corruptly” funneled money from FirstEnergy controlled accounts through Generation Now, H.B. 6, which took effect in October 2019. The bill cuts the renewable energy standard target to 8.5% by 2026 and eliminates the standard altogether after 2026, as well as establishing surcharges to ratepayers to bailout two nuclear plants and two coal plants owned by a utility-controlled collective. On March 31, 2021, Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill passed unanimously by the state Senate which revoked H.B. 6’s nuclear subsidies, as well as another provision benefiting FirstEnergy, while keeping subsidies for the coal plants and maintaining the renewable energy and energy efficiency rollbacks.
“Rooftop solar is key to our clean energy future,” said Bronte Payne, Go Solar campaign director with Environment Ohio Research & Policy Center. “We can’t let shortsightedness keep us tied to the energy sources of the past. Policymakers need to recognize and resist any attempts to undermine rooftop solar, and put in place strong policies to encourage its growth.”
Environment America Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment.
Frontier Group is a nonpartisan research and policy development center, providing information and ideas to help build a cleaner, healthier and more democratic America.
Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group are part of The Public Interest Network. The Public Interest Network runs organizations committed to our vision of a better world, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done.