Red State Rearguard Attacks on Alternative Energy

Policy Politics Utilities

Marble Falls      Coming to Arkansas in 1970, it was hard to find a state that voted for more Democrats.  Sure, there was the one northwestern congressional district in the Ozarks that had leaned Republican since protesting the state’s Civil War secession, but Arkansas was a barometer state in presidential politics, having voting for whoever was the Democratic nominee consistently for decades.  Then it was not a red and blue question, because the Democratic were deep red and many saw the Republicans, especially when led by former governor Winthrop Rockefeller, as moderates.

It’s a different story now, both locally and statewide.  Talking to the secretary of the Newton County Judge some months ago, there were election pins on her desk.  I asked if there was a vote coming up soon, and she said, “Oh, no, these were leftovers.”  I asked what party the judge represented, she said, “Republican.”  I responded, “Gee, I would vote with the Democrats, if I could,” and she quickly answered, “They all used to be Democrats.”  In short, it’s like that.  Now, the state is red from top to bottom with scarlet majorities in the state legislature and the new governor a culture warrior and former communications director for President Trump, her mentor, who was most famous for never holding press conferences.

The legislature is in session now, and it’s not pretty, especially since they are so emboldened and want to undo any slightly progressive measures that might have slipped through in the past.  There’s a flurry of notices about huge coalitions being formed to oppose new measures that attack gender, diversity, race and other hot button red state issues.  This is often the problem in Arkansas.  The people are bluer than the red politicians.  Raise the minimum wage for example, the pols protest, and the people line up to approve it.

I follow the atavistic maneuvers of the electric coops and their association, as I have for decades, so it was impossible for me to ignore the emails and alerts since the Arkansas Cooperative Association and the state’s big investor-owned utilities have been scurrying around the back rooms to gut the Solar Access Act (464) of 2019 and the elected Public Service Commission’s order implementing the Act which allowed net-metering.  The lobbyists got some fellows in the legislature to put forth a bill, HB1370, to bypass the PSC and end this push to alternative sources.  Opponents, largely under the banner of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, assembled a coalition of cities, school districts, hospitals, farmers, water districts, and others to fight the measure.  Maybe they would cringe at acknowledging climate change, but these folks had embraced solar energy since passage of the bill, build’t facilities based on net-metering, and weren’t ready to kowtow to the big energy boys.  The opponent’s tactical arguments weren’t tree-hugging, but financial as well, making the case that the utilities were guaranteed almost a 10% return, based on what could fairly be called “corporate socialism” and the PSC was the body that was supposed to regulate all of this and not bought-and-paid for legislators, so why the bill at all.


A big hearing made it hard for the big boys to hide, but ended in a kiss-your-cousin kind of compromise that would allow public authorities, hospitals, and the like to build more solar capacity and allowed some extended range for net-metering facilities and meters.  The utilities argued that the costs were being shifted to lower income customers who couldn’t afford to install rooftop solar.  All of which is a bit like listening to hunters defend their prey.  On the other side, AAEC Executive Director Lauren Waldrip argued, “If utilities, cooperatives and their House Bill 1370 sponsors are so concerned about a made-up cost-shift hoax, they should go prove it. They don’t need this legislation because there is already existing law set up to solve this problem if it is ever proven.”


They won’t, but with sizeable majorities and their hands in the utilities’ pocketbooks, they have the votes to continue to resist more aggressive encouragement of alternative energy sources with little concern for the customers and the climate.