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Public Citizen Unmasks Suspect Ratepayer Group Aiming to Disrupt U.S. Solar Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) might be a phony consumer group that seeks to end over 40 states’ successful rooftop solar programs, Public Citizen found Monday.

In a motion filed with the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission (FERC), Public Citizen provided documentation that contradicts NERA’s claim that it represents low-income households. The documents showed that 15 entities have donated between $5,000 and $20,000 annually to the organization, making up nearly its entire funding. Such funding is more representative of an industry trade association than a consumer group defending the interests of households.

Public Citizen’s filing asks FERC to dismiss NERA’s petition to end the ability of more than 40 states to administer net metering programs, because of NERA’s lack of transparency and misrepresentation.

Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar power generators for the electricity they add to the grid. It is a crucial component of rooftop solar project financing because it makes solar energy systems affordable for small businesses and families through energy credits for the solar power they generate. The NERA petition would grant FERC sole jurisdiction to govern such programs through the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act or Federal Power Act.

“Diminishing the financial viability of rooftop solar appears to be the goal of NERA’s petition,” said Public Citizen Energy Program Director Tyson Slocum. “Transferring management from states to FERC will significantly curtail the value of net metering payments. Should the commission grant NERA’s petition, states will be stripped of their rightful authorities – long recognized and affirmed by FERC – and the feasibility of the rooftop solar market would be irreparably harmed.”

The Public Citizen filing also exposes weaknesses in FERC’s filing standards that harm public transparency.

“NERA’s petition conceals and misleads FERC about the financial interests that NERA claims to represent,” Slocum added. “NERA’s pretense represents a hazard to the public interest.”

Public Citizen is the first to publicly release NERA’s IRS filings. The documents reveal that donations from just 15 members – 10 contributing $20,000 annually, and five giving $5,000 – comprised 92% of the nearly quarter-million dollars donated to NERA in 2018. Low-income families cannot afford to make $5,000 or $20,000 annual contributions to ratepayer associations.

NERA’s concealment of basic operating information and membership from FERC in its filings exploits the commission’s standards in a way that will allow future dark-money organizations to abuse the petition process. FERC’s petition, public notice and comment procedures aim to encourage full and transparent public participation in the ratemaking process. NERA’s misleading characterization of itself, combined with its refusal to identify basic information about its membership, threatens the public interest. Public Citizen’s motion asks that, as a matter of policy, the commission dismiss NERA’s Petition.

Public Citizen’s motion also notes that FERC is lagging in terms of needed disclosure requirements for petitions in comparison to other independent regulators such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in addition to the U.S. Supreme Court.