Solar power is wildly popular.
So, in recent years, fossil fuel companies and utility monopolies have had to figure out a new strategy for attacking it. Allies of the Koch Brothers and other big polluters are now pretending to be pro-solar while pushing secretive or incomprehensibly complex policies that seek to undermine clean energy.
During the 2016 election, a Koch-backed oil and coal advocate was caught on tape explaining how lobbyists should use "the language of promoting solar" to push anti-solar policies like Florida's Amendment 1, which aimed to make green energy costlier and put installers out of business. Thankfully, Florida voters caught on to the deception and defeated the ballot measure.
But opponents of renewable energy are now trying this cynical approach around the country. This week, a similar strategy is being employed in another sun-rich state, New Mexico.
In the Land of Enchantment, State Senator Clemente Sanchez and State Rep. Debbie Rodella just introduced companion bills that are advertised as measures to ensure consumer protection in the solar industry and to require greater transparency in solar contracts with homeowners.
These are laudable goals, but the legislation has other aims. The Koch Brothers' American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has spent years designing measures to defeat solar companies--particularly small- and medium-sized ones--by encumbering them in regulations that are far more stringent than those governing the purchase of other home improvements or big-ticket consumer items. The bills now under consideration in New Mexico are based directly on ALEC's model anti-solar bills in Arizona and Nevada. This helps explain why the bills--which are being pushed by the state's investor-owned utility--were developed without serious consultation with workers, some key industry leaders, government agencies, or even consumers.
The New Mexico legislation, which is moving through legislative committees in the coming days, is a perfect example of monopolists' and polluters' savvy new strategy: pretend to be pro-solar and pro-consumer, then do damage through legislative details.
While the solar industry already has serious consumer protection standards that could be codified into state law, the new legislation presents a range of requirements with which many of the state's solar firms cannot feasibly comply. At a time when regulatory, legal, and other "soft costs" of solar installation already hover around 25%, champions of "keeping limited government" and "cutting bureaucratic red tape" are somehow getting passionate about imposing costly new regulations on an industry in which they are few known instances of abuse.
Right now, solar is a leading driver of job creation and corporate investment across the country. Solar has unique capacity to unite left and right ideologically on matters from individual liberty to environmental quality.
But positive rhetoric isn't enough. Lawmakers need to stand up for genuine pro-solar policies like net metering, renewable portfolio standards, and tax credits that accelerate job creation and help level the playing field with heavily-subsidized industries like oil gas. Policymakers also need to guard against "greenwashing" campaigns that co-opt progressive rhetoric to advance the interests of absentee investors or big polluters. For New Mexico legislators, this vote is a crucial test.