A recent report from the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi) looked into the lobbying efforts of the U.S.’s 25 largest utilities and found that over the last four years these giant companies spent $400 million in lobbying. They’ve railed against rooftop solar, renewable energy standards and solar incentives in that time.
Imagine if they’d spent that money on solar power. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s (ILSR’s) Director of Democratic Energy John Ferrell estimated that the lobbying funds could have helped finance up to 26.4 gigawatts of solar power!
The new report, The Top 25 U.S. Electric Utilities: Climate Change, Corporate Governance and Politics, focusses on how leading utilities in the country are dealing with client change. “Whatever your opinion of climate change, it is a reality that regulation and societal pressure is changing the business landscape for utilities,” said Jon Lukomnik, IRRCi executive director. “Some utilities are taking proactive approaches to ensure ample and dependable energy supplies that reduce regulatory and legal risk. But other utilities are digging in their heels while looking backwards to maintain business as usual. Rather than changing the energy mix or seeking innovation that can reduce capital costs, some utilities are deploying their resources toward court battles and political influence.”
So yeah, $400 million in lobbying. Farrell wrote that “If utilities spent the $400 million directly, they could purchase about 133 megawatts of distributed solar. Against the more than 25,000 megawatts already installed, that’s a paltry amount. Even if the utilities bought utility-scale solar, at about half the upfront cost (and ignoring any need for transmission infrastructure), the money would still get just 266 megawatts.”
One of the big stories in solar power, however, is that it’s attracting money from many sources. “More than half the installed capacity has come by motivating private capital (e.g. customers installing with their own money),” Ferrell wrote. “If the utilities instead offered a $1.00 per Watt rebate for customer-owned solar installations, the $400 million would instead support 400 megawatts of solar. At 50¢ per Watt, it would support 800 megawatts. That’s a goodly amount more.”
However, Ferrell said that financing solar power through zero-money down schemes like solar leases and power-purchase agreements. “There’s a particularly potent tool that could get us more solar for our money, called on-bill repayment or on-bill financing,” he added. Under such a scheme a homeowner could get solar power for zero-down and repay the loan through a charge on their electric bill, a method, he said, has an extremely low default rate.
In such a scenario the $400 million spent on lobbying could be spent on financing solar power. If 1 percent of that $4 million was used for administration purposes, the remaining $396 million could $79.2 billion in solar financing, which would finance 26.4 GIGAWATTS of solar at $3 a watt installed. “More than the entire installed capacity in the entire U.S. through 2015,” he said.
Of course making such a thing happen would require some regulation changes and, ironically, likely some lobbying on the behalf of the utilities.Tweet