A Koch Industries subsidiary joined the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association (MnSEIA) in September, even as the political and policy groups in Koch’s influence network continue opposition to rooftop solar expansion.
Koch Industries’ refinery in Minnesota, known as Pine Bend and owned by Koch’s Flint Hills Resources, became a member of MnSEIA and announced its plans to build a solar farm on site to provide electricity to the refinery.
Pine Bend Refinery, located outside the Twin Cities and employing 1,000 workers, provides most of Minnesota’s transportation fuels, is a major supplier elsewhere in the Midwest, and is also one of the largest producers of asphalt in the country.
Flint Hills boasts, “The 30-megawatt solar development would be among the largest of its kind in the nation.” The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) calculates the solar development would provide 25% of the refinery’s daily electricity needs.
“Flint Hills is building one of the largest solar developments in our state,” MnSEIA’s executive director, Logan O’Grady, told CMD. “That’s good for Minnesotans, that’s good for our industry, and MnSEIA will be doing everything we can to make sure that project—and other projects like it—are successful.”
But MnSEIA’s board chair told the publication Solar Builder that Koch “may not be mission-aligned with the solar industry,” and O’Grady said the association may need to “create a firewall to keep them out of [policy] discussions.”
Hobbling Rooftop Solar
Not only is Koch not “mission-aligned” with solar, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the company’s federal political action committee (KochPAC), and the astro-turf Americans for Prosperity (AFP), key groups in the Koch network, continue their efforts to derail rooftop solar by opposing net metering.
Rooftop solar cannot expand without net metering, which allows the generator of solar energy, a home or business, to sell excess electricity it produces back to its utility. A net-metered customer pays the utility for the cost of electricity it uses minus the price the utility pays for the excess energy.
The Pine Bend facility will generate and consume all its solar energy on site and will not participate in net metering.
ALEC is a pay-to-play group that brings state lawmakers and corporate representatives together behind closed doors to write model legislation that is often harmful to workers, public education, and the environment. The Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries fund ALEC, and Koch Companies Public Sector’s Michael Morgan serves on ALEC’s Corporate Board.
ALEC wants residential and commercial solar generators who sell excess electricity back to utility companies to pay for the cost of maintaining the transmission and distribution grid, even though all utility customers benefit from the surplus electricity going to the utility. These costs often make a solar setup too expensive for customers.
Environment America, a nonpartisan policy group, reports, “There are more than 20 ongoing net metering or rate structure proceedings that could inhibit solar power’s growth.”
ALEC’s 2015 model resolution, intended to be introduced by ALEC legislators in their states, says, “When net-metered customers are credited for the full retail cost of electricity, they effectively avoid paying the grid costs, and these costs for maintaining the grid then are shifted to those customers without rooftop solar…”
But this ALEC policy ignores that solar net metering helps utilities meet peak demand, which saves money for all utility customers.
One analysis of 11 cost-benefit studies of rooftop solar and net metering concluded, “Solar energy systems produce clean, renewable electricity on-site, reducing the amount of electricity utilities must generate or purchase from fossil fuel-fired power plants. In addition, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems reduce the amount of energy lost in generation, long-distance transmission and distribution.”
Recipients of KochPAC contributions introduced the so-called “Ratepayer Fairness Act of 2017” (H.R. 1572) in the U.S. Congress. The legislation would eliminate the need for each state to pass legislation and would instead have a national standard.
It would require state public utility commissions to determine whether the setting of electricity rates for technologies deployed by individual customers, such as solar energy or energy storage, results in subsidies to those customers from customers who do not deploy those technologies.
If a utility commission finds that these subsidies or disproportionate effects exist, the bill then requires it to determine whether those subsidies are “appropriate,” as defined under current law. If the legislature or utility commission took a narrow view of “appropriate,” that policy could stifle solar and other renewables.
Fossil Fuel Financing
AFP, founded by Charles and David Koch, gets money from Koch-connected foundations, and its political arm, AFP Action, spent over $40 million in the 2020 elections. Eight million dollars came from Koch Industries, and $6.5 million came from the Koch-connected Freedom Partners Action Fund.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group reports, “The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has carried out extensive anti-solar organizing efforts. Koch organizations have directly supported utility fights against solar power in a number of states.”
In Nevada, for example, AFP lobbied the state utility commission to reduce the rate for solar-generated electricity paid to the homeowner. In 2016, when there was an unsuccessful ballot initiative campaign in Florida to promote solar, AFP was one of the few opposing political groups. It sent mail to its members, ran social media ads, and supported a utility-backed alternative plan for solar.