Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Monday, March 23, 2015

Is APS behind the Door-to-Door Push Poll Targeting Rooftop Solar?

Last Friday, the Arizona Capitol Times reported:
A dark money group based in Virginia is going door to door in the Valley, asking solar customers to detail their negative experiences with solar leasing.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a 501(c)(4) group with a mission to expose government waste, fraud and abuse, visited hundreds of homes so far, including Scott McCay’s house in Phoenix.
“This whole thing smelled like a bad load of fish,” McCay said.
McCay has a solar lease from SolarCity and has been involved with Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK) rallies to protest solar fee hikes. He has no complaints about his solar system, he said.
A canvasser for TPA pulled up to McCay’s house last week and asked if there were “any false promises or misrepresentations” when he got solar. A form left with McCay, which he sent to the Arizona Capitol Times, says, “Many Arizonans experience unforeseen problems when it comes to solar. This includes safety risks in times of an emergency, or higher rates when it comes to monthly fees.” [...]
“We want to talk to folks that have these solar panels … and find out just what their experience is, and really just how they were treated by these solar companies,” [TPA President David] Williams said, though he acknowledged that the group is really looking for the more negative experiences. (emphasis mine)
The Cap Times story links TPA to Dark Money high priest Sean Noble. By the way, if TPA's mission is to investigate "government waste, fraud and abuse," what business do they have investigating the main rival of an IOU (investor-owned utility)?

The reporter also got a statement from Arizona Public Service, the (investor-owned) electric power utility that stands to gain the most from a push poll of this nature.
When asked whether APS had any affiliation with the Taxpayers group, the utility said it doesn’t “discuss affiliations with or donations to 501c4 organizations.”
This, of course, is a classic "non-denial denial."
Non-denial denial is a statement that seems direct, clearcut and unambiguous at first hearing, but when carefully parsed is revealed not to be a denial at all, and is thus not untruthful. It is a case in which words that are literally true are used to convey a false impression; analysis of whether or when such behavior constitutes lying is a long-standing issue in ethics. London's newspaper The Sunday Times has defined it as "an on-the-record statement, usually made by a politician, repudiating a journalist's story, but in such a way as to leave open the possibility that it is actually true."
Which raises the question of how many (APS or SRP) ratepayer dollars were used for this push poll. I don't have the answer. Really, likely nobody knows outside of TPA and whichever utilities funded the project.

But that's not stopping Checks and Balances Project director Scott Peterson from pushing back against the utilities. From the C&BP blog:
Today, the Checks and Balances Project sent a letter to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asking that he investigate whether or not Arizona Public Service (APS) is connected with efforts by the Virginia-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance to conduct a door-to-door push poll designed solely to discredit the residential solar industry in Arizona.

If APS is connected, we ask that the Attorney General determine the extent to which APS has used ratepayer funds to underwrite this effort to protect its status as a highly profitable, incumbent monopoly. (emphasis in original) [...]
This takes place as Arizona Public Service Co. prepares a request for regulators that would increase monthly fees on solar companies, according to news reports.
From Peterson's letter to Brno,
I am writing to you after reading about a push poll disclosed by the Arizona Capitol Times on Friday, March 20, 2015. The article is titled, “Looking for Trouble in All the Solar Places” (see attached). It quotes the owner of the push poll group as acknowledging that the effort is really to discover negative experiences with residential solar.
Given your investigation into the claims of a staff whistleblower about conduct of at least two members of the Arizona Corporation Commission in a dark money scheme, I am writing to request that you:
  • Investigate whether or not Arizona Public Service (APS) is connected with efforts by the Virginia-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance to conduct this door-to-door push poll, designed solely to discredit the residential solar industry in Arizona.
  • If APS is connected, determine the extent to which APS has used ratepayer funds to underwrite this effort to protect its status as a highly profitable, incumbent monopoly.
  • Determine which specific executives at APS approved the funding for the push poll.
  • Provide an opinion on this as a proper use of APS ratepayers’ money without their consent.
Arizonans deserve to know whether or not APS hired the Taxpayers Protection Alliance directly or through the front group, American Encore. Formerly known as the Center to Protect Patient Rights, American Encore is run by Mr. Sean Noble who, during the 2013 net metering debate, APS acknowledged funneling money to in order to bolster APS’s position.
I appreciate that APS spent a large amount of money advocating for your candidacy for Arizona Attorney General. However, I trust your office will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation.
Thank you for considering my request. Please contact me if you have any questions.
There's something to be said for giving a person like Brnovich something to live up to. But I'm still skeptical that Brno can conduct an impartial investigation, given the hooks APS got into him in 2014.

Regardless, I'm confident that the bottom-line can be found in this situation, whether the Arizona Attorney General does the digging or someone else gets the honor.

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The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. - Alice Walker
— Revolutionary Quotes (@QuoteRevolution) March 7, 2015

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