(photo: YouTube screen grab of commercial mocking Edison)
Solar energy advocates, who are fighting for the industry’s life in the state Legislature, took their battle to the airwaves with ads that have Southern California Edison shrieking in protest.
“It's not that Southern California Edison doesn't understand satire or First Amendment issues,” utility spokeswoman Vanessa McGrady told the Huffington Post. “It”s because there’s a blatant misuse of our logo.”
The fossil-fuel-based utility also maintains that it loves solar energy and is pushing hard for lawmakers to adopt Assembly Bill 327, which would make the use of rooftop panels far less attractive to its customers, out of concerns about fiscal responsibility. AB 327 would reduce the amount customers save by changing the way solar net metering offsets their electric bills.
Edison sent a cease-and-desist letter (pdf) two weeks ago to presente.org, the creator of a video that mocks the utility. The letter claims that “Edison Hates Rooftop Solar” constitutes false and misleading advertising by saying the utility’s business plan is to force people to buy “dirty energy” from “dirty power plants” that “poison poor communities.” If truth is a defense, the utility might have trouble making that allegation stick.
But they are spot on that the spot uses the Edison logo and, in fact, looks and sounds very much like it could be an Edison advertisement. After the Edison logo appears on the screen at the beginning of the ad, a pitchman in a business suit appears and says:
“Here at Southern California Edison, we’re committed to rooftop solar energy. And by committed, I mean we’re committed to keeping solar panels off your roof. … Rooftop solar saves you money, and that money comes from our bottomline. In fact, rooftop solar threatens our industry’s entire business plan, which is to force you to buy dirty energy from dirty power plants that poison poor communities. . . . We’re Southern California Edison. We make power, the power to make you do what you’re told.”
AB 327 cleared the Assembly back in May and is weaving its way through the Senate. An analysis of the legislation by Senate staff members does not include a precise estimate of its cost to the public. But it does say there would be costs “in the millions to tens of millions of dollars to the General Fund and various special funds to the state as a rate payer should the CPUC exercise the authority in this bill to raise renewable energy procurement requirements.”
Net metering has been around for decades but has become more popular in recent years. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia offer net-metering to customers for the renewable energy they are selling back to the utilites. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that 297,000 residential customers nationwide used net metering as of December 31, 2012. That represents a 60-fold increase since 2003, although it’s still less than 1% of all energy users.
California accounts for half of all net-metering homes.