The fight over the future of solar power in Massachusetts is heating up faster than a well-placed array on a sunny day.
The Environmental League of Massachusetts called out the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, seeking a public duel. AIM, it turns out, wouldn’t bite.
With the Legislature debating how much electricity customers should pay to help finance new solar power, both groups placed opposing ads in The Boston Globe last Friday. AIM focused on the costs of solar energy, while ELM focused on the utilities’ lobbying efforts to keep solar incentives in check.
ELM president George Bachrach said representatives for Eversource Energy called many board members and donors of his organization to complain about the ad even before it ran. It was a way, Bachrach said, to pressure the Environmental League to back down. The ad claims utilities are blocking development of wind and solar energy at every turn while “spending a fortune” to promote the expansion of natural gas.
So Bachrach returned fire at AIM, which has been aligned with Eversource in arguing that the state’s current set of solar incentives results in higher electricity costs for ratepayers who don’t use solar power.
On Wednesday, Bachrach sent an e-mail to AIM president Richard Lord, saying the business group’s ad inaccurately claimed ratepayers will pay for $8 billion worth of solar subsidies over the course of 10 years. Bachrach says that estimate is much too high.
Bachrach, in the e-mail, challenged Lord to poll his group’s members to see if they agree with the position AIM is taking, and to have a public debate with ELM to back up the ad’s claims. Bachrach said he also proceeded to send that e-mail to members of the state Legislature. Later that day, he was told by e-mail that the business group has no interest in continuing a public discussion with Bachrach’s group on the matter.
AIM executive vice president Chris Geehern also declined to take the bait in an interview. “AIM does not answer to George Bachrach,” Geehern said. “We answer to the hard-working employers of Massachusetts.”
Bachrach said he sent the e-mail to Lord and made it public because the Legislature is drafting energy legislation that could affect the state for the next 30 years. Aside from solar incentives, lawmakers are also considering broader legislation aimed at encouraging new power lines, more hydroelectricity from Canada and the construction of offshore wind turbines.
Eversource spokeswoman Caroline Pretyman said company executives felt compelled to complain to ELM members about the group’s ad, which includes a satirical image of an Eversource bill, because it contains misleading information.
“When we got word of the ads, we felt it was important to let the board members of ELM know that the ad was riddled with gross inaccuracies and false statements,” Pretyman said.
She cited, as an example, the ELM claim that utilities use “an army of lobbyists” on Beacon Hill. Pretyman said Eversource has three in-house lobbyists.
But Pretyman, who said Eversource is a member of AIM, did acknowledge that the company is trying to influence the solar debate.
“We support solar and our records show that,” Pretyman said. “We have been part of the conversation on Beacon Hill because we think the subsidies are too high. They’re not needed any more to keep solar going.”