Thursday, May 23, 2013
Last month, Arkansas electric utilities, with help from Heartland Institute, a nonprofit known for denying climate change, once again successfully battled state legislation attempting to “promote and encourage development and use of the state’s renewable energy resources.”
House Bill 1390, which would have created the Arkansas Distributed Generation Act, died in the Joint Energy Committee when it failed to be seconded for a call to vote. The bill would have required that five percent of electric utilities’ energy portfolios come from renewable energy resources within the state.
The intent, in part, would have been to provide for increased consumer choice in obtaining electrical energy and encourage additional competition within the energy sector. The bill would have included regulating Feed in Tariff (FIT) policy. FIT refers to contracts made and rates paid when utilities buy power from renewable energy producers.
According to Frank Kelly of Arkansas Renewable Energy Association (AREA), HB 1390 represents the third attempt to present FIT to the legislature. He said a similar bill in 2009 had “active support from the governor and other state agencies including the Public Service Commission. Paul Suskie, a past chairman of the PSC spoke at length about how this would be beneficial for Arkansas and that the utilities’ arguments were not true.” However, Kelly said, the bill failed in a close energy committee vote.
“The governor basically said, don’t waste your time. The new crop of legislators are hopeless,” Kelly said.
According to Kelly, HB 1390’s sponsor, Warwick Sabin (D) “thought he had a long working relationship with Arkansas electric utility co-ops, but when he presented the bill they shut him off and told him they were going to ‘kill’ the bill. He said they would not even discuss the bill with him.” Kelly said co-sponsor John Hutchison (R) “faced unrelenting pressure to take his name off the bill or else.”
A story written by Alyssa Carducci and published on the internet site, news.heartland.org, claimed former CIA director/environmentalist, James Woolsey and former Colorado Gov. Mark Ritter planned to testify for the bill then decided not to: “…reports surfaced that Woolsey and Ritter confirmed to Sabin they would testify in favor of the bill and made travel arrangements to Little Rock for that purpose. After HB 1390 opponents confirmed that James Taylor, senior fellow for The Heartland Institute would testify against the bill, Woolsey and Ritter backed out on their plans.”
However, Woolsey’s assistant, Nancy Bonomo, told the Independent in an email that Woolsey “Never had plans to travel to Arkansas to testify.” Additionally, Sen. Sabin told the Independent that the Carducci article “was written by an organization that sent a representative to testify against HB1390. Heartland is not a news organization nor are they objective on this issue. They never interviewed me for their ‘article,’ so I never told them that James Woolsey would testify, and I have never had any contact with Mr. Woolsey’s office.” Furthermore, Craig Lewis, executive director of Clean Coalition said that, “Gov. Ritter did testify in Arkansas, as did I.”
Heartland Institute did not respond to requests to explain the discrepancies.
SWEPCO Communications Consultant, Peter Main, said, “Neither SWEPCO nor the other electric utilities in Arkansas were supportive of HB1390… a primary factor for that was a legal issue… wholesale sales prices can only be set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under current federal law, states may not independently set the price for a wholesale sale of electricity.”
Kelly said in response, “The Distributed Generation Act of 2013 expressly stated that the AR PSC would develop a program that would be in line with FERC requirements… while FIT policy could be developed that runs afoul of FERC, The Distributed Generation Act of 2013 would have met FERC requirements. We had direct input from the ARPSC to make sure our wording was right.”
Nancy Plagge, director of corporate communications for Carroll Electric said, “Carroll Electric relies on Arkansas Electric Cooperatives (AECC) to diagnose the legal, technical and regulatory elements of proposed legislation that affects power generation. Carroll Electric was only briefed on this bill, but it appears HB1390 would impose mandates on AECC which are outside of AECC’s control… imposing penalties on AECC for distributed generation resources not currently in the marketplace raises costs for all members.”
Sandra Byrd, AECC’s vice president of Member and Public Relations, who spoke to the energy commission against the bill, did not return calls.
A document Kelly put together to promote the bill said, “The language in this Bill insures that electric rates will not be negatively impacted and in fact the policy this Bill puts in place will attract significant economic development.”
The document further stated, “Utilities currently have a monopolistic control over where our power comes from. This Bill opens the market to consumer choice, innovation and competition.”
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