DENVER — The campaign built slowly on the internet for weeks and has grown more intense in the run up to today, the opening day of the legislative session in Colorado, because the Senate will soon decide whether to accept or reject Gov. John Hickenlooper’s appointment of Republican former state Rep. Glenn Vaad to the Colorado Public Utility Commission. More than a 1000 Coloradans have signed petitions or sent email messages asking the Senate to reject the nomination.
The bipartisan three-member utility commission is tasked with regulating the power, transportation and telecommunications industries in the state. A major decision before the commission this year concerns an Xcel Energy proposal to effectively stop paying homeowners whose rooftop solar panels contribute energy to the power grid and begin charging them for grid maintenance.
The proposal is one utility companies have begun championing in states around the country. Critics say it is part of a larger move to maintain contracts with fossil-fuel providers and to capture the growing renewable energy market by shifting solar panels off rooftops and into large utility owned “farms.”
The Xcel plan in various forms is being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which calls its version the “Electricity Freedom Act.” ALEC is the extraordinarily influential so-called “bill mill” that is backed by corporate interests and that produces model rules and legislation for state lawmakers to introduce. The legislation is often written and almost always shaped by industry representatives to primarily bolster profits, but not all industry is equally represented by ALEC. Fossil-fuel sector contributors to the organization have pushed out clean-energy sector members, for example. Nearly 40 percent of state lawmakers in the country belong to the organization and travel on ALEC “scholarships” to attend its national meetings and mix with corporate executives.
Critics of the organization say that, with its long reach and the vast resources that come of having large companies pay dues, ALEC effectively displaces public interest as the top priority of elected officials. Leaked documents recently showed that the group aimed to ask members to take loyalty oaths and swear to “put the interests of the organization first.”
Groups opposed to Vaad’s appointment say he has not just been an ALEC member but an officer. They point to documents and reports posted by consumer-advocacy groups like Common Cause and progressive-politics organizations like the Center for Media and Democracy that show Vaad was Chair of the ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development task force while he was serving in the state legislature in 2011 and 2012 and that he had been accepting ALEC “scholarships” every year he was in the legislature dating back to 2006.
According to watchdog groups, Xcel Energy has given $300,000 each year over the last few cycles to utility industry trade association Edison Electric Institute or EEI, a dues-paying ALEC member organization.
“There is a clear conflict of interest,” said Gabe Elsner, executive director at the Energy and Policy Institute in DC, in a release. “In the past year, ALEC’s utility and fossil fuel members lobbied lawmakers in at least 15 states to introduce legislation repealing Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. Now ALEC is launching a new wave of attacks on clean energy policies like solar net metering… There’s a real threat that Mr. Vaad will serve ALEC’s special interest members instead of Colorado families.”
A Change.org petition reportedly signed by 750 Coloradans was sent to the governor and members of the legislature this morning along with an email with hundreds of comments opposing the Vaad appointment.
The petition:[blockquote]A high ranking member of the special interest group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been nominated as one of three Colorado Public Utility Commissioners.
Whereas ALEC is working to impede the adoption of clean technology by influencing law makers and public utility commissions;
Whereas Glen Vaad has deep and substantive ties with ALEC that were previously hidden from the people of Colorado;
The people of Colorado and the Friends of the Colorado Public Utility Commission are calling upon Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Senate to reject the appointment of Glenn Vaad to the Colorado PUC
Together we can find a PUC candidate that will serve the people of Colorado so that our shared economic, social and environmental interests can flourish.[/blockquote]
The PUC is scheduled to consider the Xcel rooftop “netmetering” proposal in early February.
Correction: This post originally reported that consideration of Vaad’s appointment would come today. The Senate Majority Office told the Independent that, in fact, the schedule is still being set.