Anti-Solar Op-Ed Writer Claims To Speak For Poor, Actually Works With Utilities
Research ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
Several media outlets have published op-eds by Monica Martinez, the president of a group called Hispanics in Energy, attacking net metering policies that support rooftop solar energy. But these outlets failed to disclose the ties Martinez's group has to numerous oil and utility companies -- including companies that are actively fighting net metering policies -- and many of Martinez's claims about the impact of net metering on low-income and minority communities are inaccurate.
News Outlets Publish Op-Ed Writer's Attacks On Solar Net Metering Without Disclosing Her Group's Industry Ties
Anti-Solar Op-Eds Identify Monica Martinez As Former Public Service Commissioner. At least five media outlets have published op-eds by Hispanics in Energy President Monica Martinez attacking solar energy as harmful to low-income and minority communities, particularly net metering policies that support the growth of rooftop solar by compensating solar customers for excess energy they provide to the grid. In her most recent op-ed, Martinez claimed that "solar power is pitting the 'haves' against the 'have-nots,'" and that net metering policies are "perpetuating the economic hardship" that poor and minority families face by "asking them to pay for these fancy [rooftop solar panel] systems for the rich." In all of these op-eds, Martinez is identified as "a former Michigan public service commissioner" (her 2014 op-eds on FoxNews.com and Forbes.com also note that Martinez is "founder and CEO of Ruben Strategy Group LLC"). In an October 20, 2014 article for Grist, Brentin Mock noted that Martinez's op-ed was also "submitted to Grist to print," but "[w]e turned it down." [Philly.com, 10/19/15; The Davis Enterprise, 10/18/15; InsideSources.com, 10/13/15; FoxNews.com, 12/22/14; Forbes.com, 6/13/14; Grist, 10/20/14]
What These Media Outlets Failed To Disclose: Martinez Is President Of A Group That Partners With Major Fossil Fuel And Utility Companies. Martinez is the president and secretary of Hispanics in Energy, an organization that purports to "facilitate Hispanic inclusion in America's energy industry" and serve as "a resource for the energy industry, utility companies, municipalities, elected or appointed officials with oversight responsibility of energy related policies and practices, and communities." Hispanics in Energy lists a number of big fossil fuel and utility companies among its partners, including three utility groups that are fighting net metering policies: Edison Electric Institute, Southern California Edison, and Pacific Gas & Electric. Other partners of Hispanics in Energy include big oil companies and trade groups ExxonMobil, Philips 66, the Western States Petroleum Association, and the American Petroleum Institute (API). [HispanicsInEnergy.com, accessed 10/23/15; accessed 10/23/15; accessed 10/23/15]
Several Of Hispanics In Energy's Partners Are Utility Interests Working To Weaken Net Metering Policies
Hispanics In Energy Partner Edison Electric Institute Is Leading The Charge Against Net Metering. In March, The Washington Post reported that officials at the utility trade association Edison Electric Institute (EEI) had crafted an "action plan" in 2013 for "slowing the growth of residential solar," and that evidence of their efforts could be seen in legislation in many states to "make net metering illegal or more costly":
The utility industry's playbook for slowing the growth of residential solar is laid out in a few frames of the computer slide show presented at an Edison [Electric Institute]-sponsored retreat in September 2012, in a lakeside resort hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo. Despite a bland title -- "Facing the Challenges of a Distribution System in Transition" -- the Edison document portrays solar systems as a serious, long-term threat to the survival of traditional electricity providers.
Throughout the country, it noted, lawmakers and regulatory agencies were "promoting policies that are accelerating this transition -- subsidies are growing." The document, provided to The Washington Post by the Energy & Policy Institute, called for a campaign of "focused outreach" targeting key groups that could influence the debate: state legislatures, regulatory agencies and sympathetic consumer-advocacy groups.
Two-and-a-half years later, evidence of the "action plan" envisioned by Edison officials can be seen in states across the country. Legislation to make net metering illegal or more costly has been introduced in nearly two dozen state houses since 2013.
In 2013, the Phoenix Business Journal reported that Edison Electric Institute was running ads in Arizona on "the impact of the current net metering policies" while its member company, the Arizona Public Service Co., was working to "drastically lower the amount of money solar customers get for their excess power" under net metering rules. In addition to being listed as a partner organization, EEI contributed $10,000 to Hispanics in Energy in 2013, according to a review of EEI's tax filings by the Energy & Policy Institute. [The Washington Post, 3/7/15; Phoenix Business Journal, 11/5/13; Energy & Policy Institute, 1/21/15]
Two Utility Companies Partnering With Hispanics In Energy Are Actively Fighting Net Metering In California. Two utility companies that are partners of Hispanics in Energy -- Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison -- are actively working to weaken net metering rules in California. On August 4, Greentech Media reported:
California's two biggest utilities have just fired the first shots in a battle over the state's net metering future by proposing a system that would pay future solar-equipped customers less for the green electricity they feed back to the grid, as well as imposing monthly charges for the utility power they consume.
In a move that's likely to draw fire from the solar industry and environmental groups, Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison filed proposals with the California Public Utilities Commission on Monday that, while complex in their details, would have the broad effect of significantly reducing the economic value of customer-sited solar systems, compared to today's current net-metering rules. [Greentech Media, 8/4/15]
Martinez's Op-Eds Repeat Several Common Myths About Solar Net Metering
Martinez Wrongly Claimed That Net Metering Shifts Costs To Non-Solar Customers. In an October op-ed that appeared on Philly.com, in The Davis Enterprise, and at InsideSources.com, Martinez asserted that net metering "amount[s] to a hidden fee that's imposed on everyone else who doesn't have rooftop solar panels." Martinez similarly claimed in an op-ed for FoxNews.com that "[t]he costs that [net metering] customers avoid are then imposed on others," and alleged in her Forbes.com op-ed that "the cost to serve net-metered customers is shifted to the non-solar customers." However, net metering actually helps keep electricity prices low for both solar and non-solar users by lowering utilities' generation and transmission costs. Indeed, state analyses in Nevada, California, Vermont, Mississippi, and New York have all found no significant cost increase for non-solar customers from net metering. [Media Matters, 9/14/15]
Martinez Wrongly Claimed That Net Metering Harms Low-Income Families. In October, Martinez also wrote that net metering policies are "perpetuating the economic hardship that [poor] families face by asking them to pay for these fancy [rooftop solar] systems for the rich." Writing for FoxNews.com, she similarly asserted that net metering is "unintentionally subsidizing more wealthy homeowners at the expense of lower-income families who cannot afford to purchase a rooftop solar system," and in her Forbes.com op-ed, she declared that net metering increases the "energy cost burden" for low-income households. However, an analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that rooftop solar installations are "overwhelmingly occurring in middle-class neighborhoods that have median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000," and that the income-levels with the most solar growth "had median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $50,000 in both Arizona and California and $30,000 to $40,000 in New Jersey." And as Grist's Brentin Mock has explained, recent studies show that well-structured net metering policies "can spread economic benefits across communities, including to those who can't produce their own solar power." [Media Matters, 9/14/15]
Martinez Wrongly Claimed That Net Metering Harms Minorities. In her October op-ed, Martinez wrote that people who are too poor to afford rooftop solar are "disproportionately minorities," and alleged that the current transition to cleaner energy is not happening in a way that "treats all Americans -- regardless of class, race, or income -- equally." And in her FoxNews.com op-ed, Martinez claimed that net metering is "amplifying" the economic inequality that Latinos face compared to other Americans. In reality, net metering policies not only do not harm minority communities (for the reasons mentioned above); they can actually benefit African-Americans and Latinos by helping address the disproportionate toll that fossil fuel pollution has on these communities. As Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, told the Los Angeles Times, net metering policies "are good programs. But there is a stigma the utilities are exploiting." [Media Matters, 9/14/15]