Is TASC splintering the rooftop solar industry?
A leading solar advocacy group is drawing criticism from its own industry
by Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive, December 3, 2015 (excerpts)
Just as the utility sector begins to embrace solar, the solar industry itself appears to be splintering, with once-allied companies being divided by contentious electricity policy issues on both the national and state level.
Earlier this month, Sunnova, a leading residential installer, sent a letter to congressional leaders advocating for the expiration of the current 30% investment tax credit (ITC) for solar projects, putting it at odds with the Solar Electric Industries Association (SEIA), the main national solar trade group that has launched an aggressive campaign for ITC renewal.
That divide in the industry was widely reported in national business press, but many of the issues at the state level regarding utilities and solar valuation have driven wedges into the industry just as deep as the ITC disagreement. The behavior of one national advocacy group – The Alliance for Solar Choice – has come under special scrutiny lately.
From Maine to Hawaii, dozens of states have regulatory proceedings open that concern the value of solar, whether it be a net metering docket or an attempt to find a more comprehensive valuation mechanism.
The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) has been a major intervenor in a number of such proceedings since its founding in April 2013, aggressively lobbying for the preservation of retail rate net metering and other pro-solar policies.
TASC’s backers say its tactics get results, but others decry its behavior in regulatory dockets as counterproductive to utility-solar dialogue….
…(Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob) Stump now believes the work of “rooftop solar interests” is driving “green McCarthyism,” he told Utility Dive.
Though he did not mention TASC by name, Stump described efforts by “out-of-state third-party installers” participating in the policy debate in a way “that does not contribute to a constructive outcome.”
He said that “dark money fringe groups like the Checks and Balances Project” are being used to attack those who “so much as suggest that utility ownership of rooftop solar might be a fruitful idea worth investigating.”
TASC in Hawaii
TASC’s efforts in defense of NEM in Hawaii have incurred a similar response. The Public Utilities Commission recently culminated Phase 1 of its landmark DER proceeding by terminating NEM in favor of a new set of solar support policies and tariffs.
Hawaii's solar industry is still reeling from the announcement.
“The decision was like an earthquake in Hawaii solar,” said Hawaii Island Electric Cooperative Director and ProVision Solar President Marco Mangelsdorf at the time. “Over time, consumers will come around to believe that though the value proposition is diminished, it still makes sense.”
The PUC’s proposals represent a “good overall package of changes that needed to happen,” said Chris DeBone, Hawaii Energy Connection CEO and former president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. "Nobody likes change, but this is in the best interests of Hawaii.”
But TASC filed suit against the Hawaii PUC, requesting an injunction in an attempt to defend net metering. The commission’s ruling "goes far beyond anything proposed by even notoriously anti-solar Hawaiian Electric," TASC spokesperson Bryan Miller told Pacific Business News.
Mangelsdorf, a 30-year veteran of Hawaii’s solar installation business, told Utility Dive the decision led to “over-heated incendiary rhetoric and even the filing of a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii demanding that NEM be continued seemingly in perpetuity.”
Demonizing the opposition and presupposing guilt “leads us nowhere,” Mangelsdorf said.
“Unfortunately, some organizations and individuals here see such a scorched earth approach as conducive to trying to get what they want as they put on a populist cloak while pursuing a guarantee of certain sales levels and market share for their companies.”
At least one former Hawaii utility regulator appears to agree.
TASC’s lawsuit demonstrates a “lack of a basic understanding” of ratemaking, of administrative law, and of “the PUC's sole role over the regulated electric utility,” wrote former Hawaii PUC Chair Mina Morita. “TASC's arguments make it appear that it is the PUC's duty to guarantee TASC's non-regulated members a profit.”
TASC “continues to run a campaign and use tactics akin to negative political campaigning,” Morita added.
Transitioning to an electrical system that can handle “a high penetration of cost-effective renewables affordably and reliably through a sustainable market for all customers,” she wrote, “will not come from a political decision based on push polls rooted in negative campaigning which Mr. Miller seems to rely on.”
It would be wiser, according to Mangelsdorf, to eschew “attack politics and lawsuits” and “adapt to the brave new post-NEM world.”
SolarCity pulls out
While it denied any disagreement with TASC’s tactics, SolarCity, the leading U.S. residential solar installer, announced late last month that it would end its membership in the advocacy group
"SolarCity is no longer involved with TASC advocacy on new matters,” Communications Director Will Craven told Utility Dive. “We appreciated the opportunity to be a member of TASC and wish TASC the best of luck.”
Sunrun, now the largest member of TASC, had little to say about the split. The company "has appreciated working with SolarCity as part of TASC," according to Spokesperson Kim Sanders. "We wish it the best of luck."
SolarCity was unwilling to comment on reports of TASC’s aggressive tactics, but has shifted its backing to the Energy Freedom Coalition of America (EFCA).
EFCA, Craven said, represents a broader range of distributed energy resources such as battery storage, microgrids, utility-scale energy solutions, and other demand response applications as well as rooftop solar….
read … Utility Dive
ILind: Energy economics and changing politics reshaping the solar industry