SolarCity ends support for watchdog group investigating Arizona regulators

Dive Brief:

  • SolarCity, the top U.S. residential solar installer and provider of third-party ownership financing, will terminate its funding of the Checks and Balances Project, a clean energy watchdog group that has sought to reveal a bias against the solar industry in Arizona, Greentech Media reports. 
  • Last year, Checks and Balances fought for the release of text messages between Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump, executives at Arizona Public Service (APS) and the head of a political group connected to the utility. The group also highlighted the relationship between a cable company and ACC Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith, leading to her resignation
  • SolarCity had been critical of APS for supporting outside political groups, but last December confirmed it had helped fund Checks and Balances as it pursued its campaigns against members of the commission. The shift in strategy comes as the solar company brings on former FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff as Chief Policy Officer.

Dive Insight:

As the leading U.S. residential solar company onboards a new policy head, it is terminating its support for a watchdog group in Arizona that has launched high-profile public record battles against regulators.

Checks and Balances' public records investigation last year sought 3,598 text messages from Commissioner Bob Stump to 18 individuals between mid-2014 and early 2015. After the Arizona Attorney General’s office retrieved 36 of the messages and found them blank, an Arizona judge ruled the texts are not public records.

Checks and Balances said its intent was to reveal a regulatory bias against solar and inappropriate relationships between the commission and utility companies. It launched its campaign after the ACC allowed utilities to impose new charges for rooftop solar customers and start pilot programs to provide rooftop solar themselves.

APS acknowledged funding of outside groups that supported its solar policy proposals in 2013, and in December ACC Commissioner Robert Burns wrote to the company, asking it to reveal its spending in the 2014 election cycle as well. The letter was prompted by a September ACC filing that said the utility contributed more than $3 million to outside groups supporting the election of ACC Commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little.

SolarCity officials had criticised APS for its political efforts, but then in December confirmed that it had helped fund Checks and Balances. That didn't go over well with Stump, who told the Arizona Republic he found it "astonishing that the biggest U.S. provider of rooftop solar power is funding the effort to harass regulators whose decisions affect their bottom lines."

Checks and Balances will continue public records investigations and other efforts, Executive Director Scott Peterson told Greentech Media, stressing that SolarCity is just one of their backers. 

Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to Checks and Balances as a political group. They are a public watchdog that deals in political campaigns regarding clean energy. 

Filed Under: Solar & Renewables Distributed Energy Regulation & Policy Corporate News
Top image credit: wikimedia