Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Louisiana Midterms have Serious (Solar) Energy Implications

The oil and gas lobby wields tremendous power in Louisiana, but renewable forms of energy are increasingly popular. The outcome of the election in Louisiana will have a significant impact on the future of solar in the state, it will also decide who Heads the Energy and Natural Resource (ENR) Committee.

The Senate race in Louisiana between Rep. Bill Cassidy and Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will determine who heads the ENR Committee in 2015. Landrieu is the current panel chairman, and while she went into the election in the lead, she will have difficulty winning what will likely be a runoff if neither candidate gets 50 percent of the vote.

At the same time as they decide who will hold the gavel on the ENR committee, Louisiana voters will also decide who heads the state's Public Service Commission (PSC). At stake is whether of not the state will heed growing public demand for clean renewable energy. Louisiana is one of only two states that both directly elects its commissioners and gives the PSC direct legislative authority. The person who gets elected will decide the future of rooftop solar in the state and have a major impact on one of the fastest growing solar markets in the US.

The two frontrunners are both Republicans: The incumbent is chairman Eric Skrmetta, whose leadership has been marred by allegations of graft. Since 2009, more than 75 percent ($311,000 of a total of $401,000) of his campaign fundraising has come from companies he is charged to regulate.

Skrmetta's voting record clearly favors existing energy utilities and he has made it hard for renewables to compete. Under Skrmetta, the PSC limits how much electricity homes with rooftop solar systems can sell back to the grid. Using net metering tactics he has succeeded in reducing the competitiveness of solar.

Skrmetta's principle challenger, Forest Bradley-Wright, is considerably more favorable towards solar energy. He believes that solar, "represents a fundamentally American interest; it represents technological innovation, it represents opening new markets that improve peoples' lives."

Out of fear for Bradley-Wright's support for solar, Skrmetta tried to broker a deal with the solar industry in exchange for their support. However, when the deal went public Skrmetta was forced to distance himself from it.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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