Utility Arizona Public Service has confirmed that it donated funds to front groups running an anti-rooftop-solar advertising campaign meant to turn Arizona ratepayers against net energy metering.
“APS recently acknowledged that it provided money to a Washington, D.C.-based conservative organization called 60 Plus,” the Arizona Republic reports. “It also gave money to another nonprofit called Prosper.”
The APS monies supported the production and airing of television ads meant to fuel backlash against Arizona's net metering incentives. One of the ads, produced by 60 Plus, attempted to tie solar service providers SolarCity and Sunrun with Solyndra, the solar manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2011.
Showing images of shady businessmen doing secret deals outside a corporate jet, the ad claimed that "California billionaires are getting rich off of your tax dollars."
You can view the ad below:
The video from Prosper released in mid-July foreshadowed APS’ argument in its August proposal to the Arizona Corporation Commission to reduce net metering. The ad stated that every solar system "ads $20,000 in cost to customers" -- a claim that APS CEO Don Brandt started making this spring.
“Current policies aren’t fair because solar users are paid five times the market rate. Those costs are passed on to those who don’t have solar,” the ad claimed.
View this ad below:
The 60 Plus Association is a D.C.-based nonprofit started by Republican lobbyist and APS consultant Sean Noble.
Prosper is an Arizona nonprofit led by Kirk Adams, former Republican Speaker of Arizona's House, along with staffers for former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).
This is the first admission from APS of its financial contributions to the groups. APS representatives Jim McDonald and Jenna Shaver have, in prior GTM interviews, artfully avoided the question.
"APS had nothing to do with the making of or the content of the video," Shaver said in July. "But we were aware 60 Plus was going to engage in the discussion and we welcome their support." APS has, she added, “tried to stay positive and look for solutions and customer fairness."
APS “is contributing money to the nonprofits, and potentially other groups through political consultant Sean Noble and his firm, DC London,” APS Communications VP John Hatfield admitted to the Arizona Republic.
APS funded the ads, Hatfield said, in order to respond to arguments made by solar advocacy groups Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed (TUSK) and The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC). He called claims by the industry that APS is opposed to solar “ridiculous.”
The APS donations were not ratepayer monies, Hatfield told the Arizona Republic. Instead, they were corporate profits that would go to Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the utility’s publicly traded parent company. The amount of money donated was not disclosed, but costs for TV spots “run into hundreds of thousands of dollars,” noted the article in the Arizona Republic.
“We are in a political battle,” said APS spokesperson Jim McDonald. “We didn’t ask for it. But we are not going to lie down and get our heads kicked in. We are just not. We are obligated to fight. It is irresponsible to our customers not to fight back.”
McDonald said that APS supports solar and questioned whether TUSK, the solar advocacy organization, is actually organized by Republicans, as the group claims. “The biggest supporters [TUSK] has are the Democrats that supported Obama,” McDonald said.
“Innovation is happening all around APS, and they are sitting there like an elephant in a mud puddle,” former Republican Congressman and TUSK leader Barry Goldwater, Jr., a longtime Arizona resident, recently told GTM.
Goldwater is one of the leading conservatives supporting net metering in Arizona. He believes the popularly elected Corporation Commission’s decision on NEM, scheduled for mid-November, will show their support as well.
“All of the commissioners are Republicans and conservatives who believe in [market] choice,” Goldwater said. “They will come down on the side of competition and against APS. They better, or they are in trouble. That’s why we have elections. If we don’t like the job they are doing, we will replace them. The people in the bleachers know a lot more about what’s going on down on the field than we give them credit for.”
SolarCity and TASC recently released a video response. Watch it below: