Debbie Dooley and the Georgia Tea Party Patriots have been waging guerrilla warfare against Southern Company and Georgia Power of late, for which they have earned a few bylines and the ire of, among others, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation vice president Benita Dodd. It’s a popcorn moment for progressives, but it raises some questions about what GPPF may actually be about.
Energy company executives describe the Green Tea Coalition, of which the Georgia Tea Party is a part, as an “unholy alliance,” of the left and the right, Dooley has said in prior interviews. While progressive groups have been pushing for solar power on environmental grounds, the Tea Party is somewhat more concerned about market access to competitors and the influence companies like Georgia Power have on the regulatory process — an extension of the anti-Wall Street ethos that led to the formation of Tea Party groups in the first place.
backs and her group are debating the merits of HB 657, which would require power companies to buy more of their supply from a solar power company. It’s a kludgy sausage of legislation by any standard; it essentially creates a solar monopoly in Georgia to feed the grid power, done to protect the existing territorial monopolies of power providers. It neither changes Georgia’s lousy net metering rules nor ends the 1973 law that requires homeowners to own solar panels on their roofs instead of leasing them as has been done successfully in other states. But it nonetheless presents a challenge to the gas-coal-nuclear power generation monopoly as it stands today in Georgia.
One can argue about whether Dooley and her group have been orthodox conservatives, but they have certainly not been orthodox Republicans.
Enter Dodd, the number two staffer at GPPF, stage right, on Facebook. “I am going out on a limb and saying this: The Tea Party allying with environmental activists is a recipe for disaster,” she wrote Sunday night. “Green Tea Coalition? You are going to regret this alliance, Tea Party. You do not establish a coalition with a group that believes that government is the solution when you support limited government. This is going to bite you. Believe me: This is going to bite you.” Later, she added, ” Debbie Dooley is endangering the movement by aligning herself with those who will use the brand to destroy itself.”
This sent Dooley howling, and supporters on either side to shore up the bulwarks.
“Thank you Benita, for calling out Ms Dooley for her ill-conceived efforts,” wrote William Henry Verner, vice president for external affairs at Georgia EMC. “Unfortunately, ego is apparently clouding her judgement, and her fundamental lack of knowledge of how electricity is delivered combined with an apparent lack of desire to learn about the numerous owner/operators of the critical infrastructure required for 24/7 service, does a disservice to those who have put some degree of faith in her leadership.”
I went back and forth with Verner after he cited unbylined articles in the Georgia EMC-published Georgia Magazine as evidence for his claims. Notably, he chose not to discuss what the actual change in Georgia EMC’s financial risk profile might be. I know darned well that a company the size of Georgia EMC has highly-trained risk managers who could crunch the figures and come up with a financial estimate, hideously complicated though this all be. If he had numbers and they were valuable, I assume he would have used them. Either they don’t actually have numbers — which calls their financial competence into question — or a debate on the financial merits would not reflect favorably on his position.
Now, we can have a long discussion about the merits of solar in Georgia, or the potentially-disruptive effects on the finances of power operators expecting a fixed return on invested capital, or whether it makes sense to empower a solar monopoly as a means to combat a conventional-power monopoly, or the fact that Verner couldn’t quite manage to say just what kind of financial hit Georgia EMC — or consumers — might take, were the bill to become law.
But I’m wondering why a Dodd, a GPPF executive at a free-market think tank, would be taking sides with a highly-regulated government monopoly — arguably the least free-market element of the economy in the whole state — over the Tea Party in the first place.
From the GPPF website: “We believe good public policy is based upon fact, an understanding of sound economic principles and the core principles of our free enterprise system – economic freedom, limited government, personal responsibility, individual initiative, respect for private property and the rule of law.”
But this monopoly power means that it is illegal for someone to effectively “buy” power from a solar array that they lease themselves, mounted on their own property. And it also means that consumers have little recourse if the monopoly power company raises rates, beyond the Public Service Commission’s power to manage the monopoly. Hear that again: the Public Service Commission. Elected officials. In political corruption-heavy Georgia. Setting rates “in the best interest of the public.”
It would be easy enough, were I nothing more than a left-wing conspiracy theorist, to chalk this up to the influence of the ALEC-connected, Koch Brothers-funded Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and their ilk on the GPPF. Defense of free markets stops when the checks stop clearing, perhaps. The funding trail for GPPF is relatively opaque: if they disclose their donors, I don’t see it. I have no idea how much money they’re receiving from Southern Company, Georgia Power, Georgia EMC and others who stand to have a random element thrown into their revenue projections by the passage of this bill. The think-tank had about $660,000 in revenue in 2011, which was a huge leap over previous years, potentially related to the Citizens United ruling and changes about how donations work. Perhaps GPPF will publish a list of the people on their board of directors — it’s nowhere I can see on their website.
But I think this internecine pissing match might be more fundamental than that. The solar power fight raises Dooley’s profile. People are paying attention to her. The job of a think-tank these days is at least as much to get attention as it is to promulgate sound policy. And people are ignoring the GPPF and Dodd. That’s gotta rankle.