Buying Power: Utility Dark Money and the Battle Over Rooftop Solar
5 LSU Journal of Energy Law & Resources 1 (2017) (symposium)
23 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2016 Last revised: 13 Apr 2017
Date Written: 2017
As rooftop solar energy systems become an ever more attractive alternative to grid-supplied electricity, electric utilities are actively seeking for ways to protect themselves against this new form of disruptive innovation in their markets. One strategy that some utilities appear to be employing is that of using large “dark money” campaign contributions to influence public utility commission races and other state-level elections. Ambiguous campaign finance rules in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision have generated a hazardous degree of uncertainty regarding the extent of legal constraints on investor-owned utilities’ funding of the election campaigns of utility regulators. Accordingly, some utilities have begun interpreting the law as permitting them to secretly make unlimited campaign contributions and thereby exert unbounded influence over the regulatory structure that governs them. What legal theories or strategies might help to resolve or mitigate this troubling new trend of dark money politics in utility law? This Essay highlights the nation’s growing regulatory capture problems involving electric utilities and identifies some plausible means of addressing them.
Keywords: Solar Energy, Dark Money, Utilities
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