By Doug Porter
The business section of UT-San Diego leads today with an article informing us that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is considering a proposal advanced by SDG&E to shift the costs of producing electricity to “lower tier” users. The kilowatt-hours charges on the base allotment of electricity would jump by 24% come July 1st.
What that effectively means is a raise in rates for homeowners, small businesses and buildings equipped with solar panels. Current billing practices shift a higher percentage of costs to heavy users. Should the proposal before the CPUC gain approval, the paper says, “the largest home-electricity users would avoid a major bill hike, and could see some reductions.”
This raise in rates fits in rather neatly with a national strategy articulated by carbon-based energy corporations. Since California’s rates are not directly set by the legislature, utility companies are making proposals directly to the CPUC. In many states, like Arizona, these concepts are making their way through the legislature. The similarity of the substance of these schemes is hardly a coincidence.
This strategy was first revealed via the Guardian newspaper back in early December, when documents from an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Chicago were leaked.
According to the Center for Media and Democracy:
“ALEC is a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax break for donations, effectively passing these lobbying costs on to taxpayers…”
“…Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills.”
Here’s the lede from the Guardian’s coverage:
An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders” – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.
Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.
Details of Alec’s strategy to block clean energy development at every stage – from the individual rooftop to the White House – are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.
If you follow the money flowing into ALEC, it’s easy to understand the measures they advance. From PR Watch:
Almost 98% of ALEC’s funding comes from corporations like Exxon Mobil, corporate “foundations” like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, or trade associations like the pharmaceutical industry’s PhRMA and sources other than “legislative dues.” Those funds help subsidize legislators’ trips to ALEC meetings, where they are wined, dined, and handed “model” legislation to make law in their state.
SDG&E says these rate increases are needed because “its low-use customers have been paying far less than it costs to serve them.” I say it’s part of a larger strategy by the fossil fuel industry to preserve market share in the face of increasing amounts of green energy being produced. And I could care less about saving any money for big users on their electric bills. Perhaps they’ll be motivated to install their own solar power.
This rate increase proposal is just the opening salvo in what promises to be a drawn out battle. The CPUC is tasked with re-writing “net metering” provisions that credit consumer solar productions against their bills over the next two years. Paying attention to what’s going on in upcoming commission meetings is critical. If the big three investor owned companies servicing California have their way, we’ll be looking at higher bills and more air pollution.
City Lobbying Firm Faces Fines
The Los Angeles Times reports the firm responsible for advocating on San Diego’s behalf in Sacramento has reached an agreement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to pay fines for failing to report fund-raising expenses that benefited about 40 state legislators and other officials.
The settlement stems from a civil lawsuit by a former bookkeeper of Sloat, Higgins Jensen & Associates alleging that owner Kevin Sloat routinely used his home in Sacramento to host lavish fund-raising parties for lawmakers, inviting his major lobbying clients to write them checks.
Via the Times story:
Clients of the Sloat firm were expected to attend fund-raisers at his Crocker Road mansion in an exclusive part of Sacramento and make political donations, Smira alleged in court papers.
“A typical evening at [Sloat’s] mansion would result in between $10,000 and $50,000 for an elected official,” the lawsuit alleges, and in return the firm’s clients “were promised exclusive access to the governor, legislators or candidates.”
One of former Mayor Bob Filner’s early actions in office was to fire Sloat, Higgins Jensen & Associates, along with DC lobbyists at Patton Boggs. His reasoning, it is believed, had to do with the Sacramento lobbyists’ GOP tilt being out of sync with a legislature dominated by Democrats.
From a Reader story by Matt Potter back in December:
U-T San Diego took the move especially hard, reporting in a January 25 news story, “The abrupt dismissals leave the city without an important voice in both capitals right when the first round of budgets and legislative priorities are being crafted.”
Four days later, the paper followed up with an editorial, headlined “Insolence at City Hall.”
Beyond [Filner’s] own flawed process in keeping the council in the dark, the firing of the lobbyist firms leaves the city with no voice at all in Sacramento or Washington at the very time that crucial decisions are being made in both capitals that will significantly affect the city.
No mention was made in either piece about the lobbyists’ work on behalf of the city regarding the so-called Navy Broadway Complex, a giant commercial real estate project to be developed on federal land at the foot of Broadway downtown by U-T publisher and hotel mogul Douglas Manchester.
Another Bad Apple Cop Investigation
One of the points often overlooked in media coverage of the “Jane Doe” lawsuit against the City of San Diego is the plaintiff’s demand for an ongoing monitoring of SDPD activities. The City Attorney has spun the story to the point where it’s almost always reported as a financial issue. Jane Doe is cast as a victim seeking to get rich at the expense of taxpayers.
She and her lawyers claim incidents of sexual assault went on for a decade prior to the arrest of SDPD officer Anthony Arevalos in 2012. Prior to this week’s revelation about taxpayer funds used in hiring a private detective to follow and videotape her actions for 23 days, an earlier legal claim that the underwear taken by the officer during the sexual assault constituted a bribe came as a direct response to the demand for a police monitor.
Yesterday it came out that yet another SDPD officer is accused of sexually assaulting women while on duty. UT-San Diego reported “Officer Christopher Hays, 30, a four-year department veteran, has not been arrested or charged.”
From the 10News account:
Sources also told Team 10 there were red flags about Hays before he was hired by the police department. The sources would not elaborate, however.
According San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, the accused officer is on paid administrative leave. Several media outlets reported that the County District Attorney’s office received the case three weeks ago and is still considering its options.
The allegations against Hays concern inappropriate touching during pat-down searches of four women. The Police Chief told UT-San Diego that no arrest was made because “there were no witnesses to the cases and no physical evidence.”
Lincoln Club Update
Yesterday’s column reported on a mailer distributed via the Lincoln “We’re Not Racists” Club. An article in City Beat suggested (that’s how I read it) a “Democrat Latina” featured in their latest bit of truthiness might not actually be a resident of San Diego. A spokesman for the Lincoln Club was quoted as saying he wouldn’t talk about it.
Once the article was published, a Lincoln Club spokesman went public claiming the woman in question was a San Diego resident.
What is true is the run-down neighborhood used for the photograph in the mailer–which implies the setting is what’s in store for your neighborhood if you vote for David Alvarez–was actually taken in National City.
Get Ready for a Another Racist Outburst
If you’re planning on watching the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics tonite, you might want to keep your social media access at a distance.
From the New York Times:
During the opening ceremony coverage, Coca-Cola plans to run a 90-second version of “America Is Beautiful,” its 60-second Super Bowl commercial by Wieden & Kennedy that salutes diversity, and generated complaints from some viewers who expressed outrage that
“America the Beautiful” was sung in multiple languages along with English.
Also during that coverage, Chevrolet plans a commercial for its Traverse minivan with diverse families — including two same-sex couples — to illustrate a theme, “The New Us.” The spot was created by the Commonwealth unit of the McCann Worldgroup.
On This Day: 1893 – Elisha Gray patented a machine called the telautograph. It automatically signed autographs to documents. 1958 – THe Brooklyn Dodgers officially become the Los Angeles Dodgers 1979 – Pink Floyd premiered their live version of “The Wall” in Los Angeles
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bob dorn says
Gradually, gradually and slowly, the domination of the American political economy by fossil fuel (along with military/intelligence and banking) has been deepening into outright control. Awareness of that fact has been growing at the same rate. At some point our awareness will become equal to the dismantling of this corporate state, with a return to some form of representative democracy.
To my own eyes, it seems we’ve elevated fraudsters and relegated the mass of the population to poverty. (See Senator Jay Rockefeller’s comments to the Senate committee he sits on reported today (not very widely) for more on this.)
Andy Cohen says
Surprise, surprise! This totally contradicts what a company spokeswoman told me in an interview last August.
“We are advocating for rate reform to a cost based structure that is fair for all, but would still protect low income consumers,” spokeswoman Stephanie Donovan told me. I’m skeptical about their actual commitment to penalizing those with solar generating capacity, though. They’ll back down on that one. I think they’re just using it as a negotiating ploy.
But, the whole argument about baseline rate increases is very similar to the one made to the Helix Water District, where property owners with larger plots of land and thus higher consumption of water wanted those at the lower end to pay more of what they called their fair share. They say that larger property owners are unfairly subsidizing Tier 1 users. It’s a similar situation with SDG&E Tier 1 users.
But a 25% increase will never happen. Electricity is a basic need, and I’m certain the CPUC won’t allow SDG&E to place that kind of burden on lower income Tier 1 customers.
bob dorn says
Astounding cheek, Ms. Donovan. Has Sempra fired you yet?
(Good on you for saving this quote, Andy.)
Sempra/SDG&E has been arguing for some sort of special fee on home solar owners for at least 2-3 years.
I firmly think they are looking for a way to stick it to homeowners who have the temerity to want some control over our own power production.
I understand that is a slightly different thing than trying to raise rates on Tier 1 users. But, for Sempra, it feeds the same beast: control of power production/distribution. And that doesn’t sound like a bargaining chip to me.
Jay Powell says
Great article Doug. But Andy, the actions at PUC are not a negotiating ploy. SDGE/Sempra is dead serious about these proposals. They have an inflated rate base and they have to spread the costs somehow without goring the energy hogs who are all ready screaming like stuck pigs. The same PUC they are in front of with this proposal just unanimously approved the Pio Pico powerplant in east Otay Mesa, adding $1.6 Billion to ratepayer load for a facility that will do nothing to replace the phantom power not needed from San Onofre.
Every facility they build goes into the rate base where they earn a guaranteed rate of return from 10 to 12%. The new so-called “smart meters” on every “custo-meters” home and business and institution, the $2 Billion Sunrise Powerlink, changing the wood poles to steel through Cleveland so they can add more capacity to import utility scale generation, full page PR ads in the UT San Diego masquerading as consumer information telling us how they are helping us “integrate our home solar into the grid” while they sponsor and promote roof top solar killing legislation in Sacramento, even the so-called Energy Innovation Center in Clairemont, are just a few of the goodies we get to pay for under the guise of providing us a reliable source of power.
It is not a sustainable business model without spreading the inflated costs to those home and business owners or government entities who are trying to conserve or invest in energy efficiency and/or solar. As you pointed out, Ms Donovan was spinning the issue upside down and inside out trying to explain why they were promoting AB 327 to allow Mr. Peevy and the rest of the PUC to further gouge consumers. Sempra had set up a “Fix My Energy Bill” website and bogus consumer lobbying concern to promote this legislation. One of the best PUC Commissioners, Mark Ferron, resigned before the Pio Pico vote due to life threatening illness. He left a marvelous public letter to his colleagues upon their departure exhorting them to resist what the utilities are doing to kill solar.
No, this is not a negotiating ploy. And Bob, Ms. Donovan is doing exactly what she is told to do by SDGE/Sempra. Just imagine the walrus telling the clams how much he likes roof top solar and energy efficiency as he smiles and smacks his lips and passes the bundled political contributions and “community” donations around town and you will get the picture of what this mega-multi national owner of SDGE is all about. They have our advocacy groups now at cross purposes pitting homeowners willing to make investments in energy efficiency and solar against lower income households instead of promoting a local clean energy future that would benefit all consumers.
Thank you Mr. Powell for answering with MUCH more detailed info than I have.
Dennis Griffin says
Residential solar energy is generated and consumed locally and does not require any significant transmission.
Residential solar by its very nature provides surplus energy to the grid at times of peak demand. This is when my SDGE gets to charge tier 4 rates of approximately $.36 / KWH. If the residential solar provider gets reimbursed for his surplus (and most of them don’t) it is at the super low rate of $.04/KWH. But of course this $0.32 / KWH spread is not enough for the greedy SDGE, they want residential solar customers to pay for their infrastructure as well. They effectively want to penalize the residential solar owners for providing FREE energy into the grid.
Seeing that it favors the wealthy, we could refer to it as SDGE’s – Mitt Mansion Rate Relief Act!
John Lawrence says
In Germany, for example, they encourage residential solar construction by means of feed-in tariffs. That means that individual homeowners and businesses are incentivized to put up solar panels, and they can sell electricity back onto the grid at above market rates. SDGE and ALEC want to deincentivize people from adopting solar in order to protect their profits. But yet the government does nothing to stop them because they have the paid lobbyists that will do everything they can to protect SDGE’s profits.