How Trump did the impossible: Got solar, oil lobbyists to unite

Ari Natter and Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

The proposal is upsetting the balance of power among the energy and electricity industries in Washington, creating friction among traditional corporate allies and turning old foes into (temporary) allies. It's also created an odd match of supporters as coal miners -- who reject efforts to address climate change -- join with the nuclear industry, which has asked to be rewarded for the fuel's carbon-free attributes.

The solar and wind energy associations faced a flurry of questions from anxious executives, alarmed by what the plan would mean for their business models.

"It was everybody panicking together," said Christopher Mansour, vice president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

BP, the American Wind Energy Association and others hastily formed another alliance to combat the grid rule. That new "Affordable Energy Coalition" also included the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank, and Advanced Energy Economy, a trade group representing companies such as First Solar Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.

In naming the coalition, critics turned to a tried-and-true tactic in D.C. of highlighting the consumer costs of a potential policy change, rather than the corporate interests fighting it.

Coal interests in recent years used a similar approach to combat the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, by highlighting how that rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, would hike electricity costs, picking winners (solar, wind) and losers (coal).


"Washington is picking winners and losers in the market, rather than let the markets operate themselves, and that has a negative impact for consumers," Michael Steel, a spokesman for the Affordable Energy Coalition and former House Republican leadership aide, said in an interview. The group is using op-eds, letters and local media to try and get state ratepayers to weigh in with FERC.

Tensions have also erupted among longtime allies. After Trump officials heralded a newly updated U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed study as justifying Perry's proposal by asserting that losing coal-fired power plants would raise electricity costs and lead to a loss of 1 million jobs, oil and gas members of the business group revolted. Not only were those results at odds with the Energy Department's own staff analysis, but oil and gas companies were outraged that a study from a group they paid dues to was being used against them.

On a conference call, representatives of those companies took turns bashing Karen Harbert, the head of the U.S. Chamber Global Energy Institute for promoting the study and providing a supportive quote in a news release accompanying the report, say two participants in the call. These groups lined up behind Harbert as she fought against the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan; now they wanted the Chamber to publicly rescind its perceived support for Perry's plan.

Harbert said her institute did not know of the proposed grid rule before it was formally released, and the updated study was completed earlier. The institute "will fully evaluate any proposed actions by the FERC to ensure our member interests are well understood," she said.


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