solar panels

Six climate and energy-conservation groups took legal action this week at the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge an Arizona power-utility company seeking legal immunity to discriminate against rooftop-solar customers. 

The Salt River Project, a public power utility in Arizona, raised electricity rates for rooftop-solar customers by 60 percent in 2015.

In response, the rooftop-solar company SolarCity alleged in an antitrust lawsuit that the utility’s action unlawfully stamps out competition. The utility argued that public power companies are shielded from antitrust laws, rather than defending the merits of their discriminatory behavior in court.

The case is now before the Supreme Court.

The amicus brief filed by the conservation groups asserts that the Salt River Project should not be immune from antitrust liability. The groups’ filing also maintains the power utility’s obstruction of rooftop-solar deployment undermines the public-interest objectives that utility monopolies were created to serve. 

“The Salt River Project and other utilities shouldn’t be allowed to overcharge and discriminate against homeowners who embrace clean solar energy,” said Jean Su, associate conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In our era of runaway climate change, it’s critical for the Supreme Court to stop these outdated monopolies from abusing the law and trying to strangle renewable-energy development.”

“The Salt River power company is attempting to stifle renewable energy for its own financial gain, but punishing homeowners for going solar is shortsighted and reckless,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a news release. “Too many elected officials receive contributions from the fossil fuel companies to look the other way. It’s critical that the courts weigh in and put a stop to these illegal and immoral practices. Solar energy is critical for the future of this planet. We must transition off of fossil fuels, starting now.”

Added Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, “We are deeply concerned about the coordinated efforts of the Salt River Project and other monopoly utilities to stifle the growth of solar energy. Distributed solar, combined with battery storage, is a path that can help slow the climate crisis. Continuing our status quo of big utility construction of unneeded power plants is disastrous.”

Other groups on the friend-of-the-court brief include the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Greenpeace USA and Friends of the Earth.

Representatives of these groups issued the following remarks:

"The case for preserving an electric utility's monopoly over electricity generation died with federally induced wholesale competition in the late 1970s and with the recent advent of customer-owned and cost-effective rooftop solar,” said John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “The Supreme Court should permanently bury it in 2018.”

“The pattern of anticompetitive behavior utilities and corporations are pursuing to stop solar from growing is both cynical and dangerous,” said Naomi Ages, acting director of Greenpeace USA's climate and energy campaign. “We need to transition to 100 percent renewable energy as quickly and equitably as possible in order to ensure we avoid the worst effects of climate change. The Supreme Court cannot allow these discriminatory business practices that continue to harm our climate and our communities.”

“Corporate bullies should not be allowed to use illegal tactics to block the development of clean energy,” said Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “These old-school energy companies are afraid of a fair and level playing field and are trying to prevent innovation. To create an equitable energy future based on renewable sources, we must oppose the illegal protections private companies use to defend fossil fuels. We urgently need to transition to cleaner sources of power for the planet and everyone who lives on it.”

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