EME 444
Global Energy Enterprise

RPS Case Study, Part 3


The following Case Study is written by the course designer. The framework of this Case Study reflects actual Pennsylvania policy and data. All information about stakeholders, especially assessments related to the likelihood of participation in nonmarket action and the strategy that may or may not be evoked is the author's opinion and presented in a manner to best demonstrate the lesson content of this course. This Case Study does not necessarily represent the actual position or strategy held or planned by any named stakeholder.

Case Study, Continued...

In the first part of this Case Study, we identified the issue and provided background, including a full description of the principles of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) policy. In the second part, we considered the issue from the viewpoint of a wide range of stakeholders. Using an orderly format and presentation, we formulated a description of each stakeholder, initial position, and an assessment of all factors related to the demand for and supply of nonmarket action. In this part 3, we will now present an analysis of our findings and suggest strategy options.

The following nonmarket strategy is prepared from the point of view of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA), which supports the passing of HB 1580.

I. Arena

The arena has been decided. It is the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

II. General Strategy

First we will consider the three general strategies (of public politics):

Representation strategy (mobilizing voters). MAREA has low cost of organizing and extensive coverage, this may be a good option.

Majority building strategy (direct recruiting of public office holders). MAREA has some experience in this area, but doesn’t have established access to or relationships with many Representatives (especially those opposed). As a nonprofit, MAREA is also limited in its political activities. These limitations will be considered carefully later in this case study as we evaluate individual strategies.

Informational Strategies (data and understanding about an issue). Within its membership and board, MAREA has deep experience and knowledge with the issue at hand. However, this bill is not very complicated so there may be limited opportunity to sway votes with “new” information.

III. Consideration of Individual Strategies

Lobbying: In a lobbying strategy, MAREA would seek to influence the votes of Representatives by accessing the lawmakers directly and providing strategic information. Because MAREA is an IRS Section 501(c)(3) Organization (a type of non-profit), it is limited in how much lobbying action it is allowed to take. This strategy will be screened out because it is “contrary to the law.”

Electoral Support: In an electoral support strategy, MAREA would focus on providing resources that help candidates during elections. Again, because of its Section 501(3)(c) status, MAREA is prohibited from taking these actions.

Grassroots: A grassroots strategy would build on the connection between voters and their elected officials, and may be used as part of an informational or representation strategy. With its considerable number (8,000), extensive coverage and low cost of organizing, this is a good strategy. Again, however, restrictions apply and the nature of the communication would need to be primarily educational and non-partisan.

Coalition Building:

In a coalition building strategy, MAREA would work with other stakeholders who support the bill. To this end, MAREA has recently established a reciprocating relationship with PA-SEIA, where the two organizations provide one another with “honorary” memberships. PA-SEIA is a section 501(c)(6) nonprofit with far fewer restrictions on its legislative and political activities.

PennFuture, another nonprofit supporting passage of this bill, is much larger than MAREA and PA-SEIA and has a broader focus. MAREA works with PennFuture analysts on relevant policy issues as they arise and directs MAREA members to PennFuture resources and events. The opportunity for a more formalized coalition is limited by the different size and focus of the organizations.

System owners in PA (large and small) are assessed to be highly motivated (a “large” to “substantial” demand for market action) but the predicted level of actual market action is low due to the high cost of organizing. Opportunities for coalition with these promising stakeholders appear limited.

Solar installers are also a promising group but without structure or organization. The possibility of forming an effective coalition seems limited.

Ratepayers supporting the passage of HB1580 have a low demand for action and very high cost of organizing, making them, all in all, a poor option for coalition building.

Testimony: Opportunities for testimony on this issue are limited and will not be part of the planned strategy. If opportunities arise, they will be considered on a case by case basis.

Public Advocacy: In a public advocacy strategy, MAREA would communicate directly to the public conveying a particular position on an issue. Again, activities of this nature are limited by MAREA’s IRS standing; however, non-partisan educational communications can be done without restraint.

Judicial Actions: Judicial strategies are not applicable to this issue at this point.

Proposed Strategy: Regarding its ability to participate in public politics, MAREA is constrained by its IRS categorization as a Section 501(3)(c) nonprofit. It may carry out some activities that attempt to influence legislation, but these may not be a “substantial” part of the organization’s activities. Other activities, however, such as educational meetings, the preparation and distribution of educational materials, or other efforts related to public policy issues in an educational manner may be performed without violating the rules for a 501(3)(c) organization.

IV. Proposed Strategy

Recognizing this, and the untapped potential demand for action on the part of system owners in PA, MAREA proposes the following strategy:

  1. Conduct Statewide Research of Solar Electric System Owners and Installers
    • A state rebate program for solar was started in May of 2008 and led to the installation of thousands of new solar electric systems. As part of the application process, system owners were required to provide details about the installed system, including technology, design, address, and contact info. This information is collected and held by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). It is currently unavailable to the public. MAREA will use the Right to Know Law (RTKL) to request and hopefully receive access to this data.
    • Assuming that contact info for system owners in PA is successfully acquired through the RTKL, MAREA will prepare and execute a survey of each of these owners. The survey will cover a variety of issues, including how the owner is currently selling RECs and issues the owner may be having or anticipates having on this front.
    • Simultaneously, MAREA will prepare and execute a survey of solar installers. This survey will also cover many issues, including the impact the declining SREC market is having on their business and jobs.
    • The combined survey results will be compiled into a report, “The State of Solar in PA, 2011.” To the extent possible, results will be tabulated geographically.
    • A press release will be issued announcing the availability of the report and a highlight of findings. A press conference will be held to announce the findings. Copies of the report will be distributed to state-level policy makers. The report and its findings will be published on the MAREA web site, along with a webinar interpreting the results.
    • Without overreaching 501(3)(c) status, a simple campaign will be developed to educate on the content of HB1580 and instruct those who wish to take action how to do so: legislative contact info, links to PA-SEIA, and PennFuture. The campaign will use both e-mail and social media to reach out to MAREA members, system owners, and solar installers.
    • The report will be repeated on a yearly basis.
  2. Collect and disseminate information from third party sources to policy makers. For example, the recent (at that time) study Solar Power Generation in the US: Too expensive, or a bargain?, which looks at benefits of solar to public (ratepayers and taxpayers).
  3. Report on status of all solar policy at monthly meetings and in monthly newsletter.
  4. Through events, white papers, and speaking invitations, work to educate MAREA members and interested public on topics related to solar technology, policy, markets, rules, and issues.

    If contact info for system owners in PA is successfully acquired through the RTKL, the cost of organizing will drop considerably. This will change the nonmarket analysis for this stakeholder. With the easier mobilization of this large group that has complete regional coverage, the predicted amount of nonmarket action will go from limited to high.

V. Status

The Right to know request was filed, but was originally denied by the DEP. An appeal was made to the state Office of Open Records (OOR). The DEP requested a bifurcation and argued that the OOR did not have jurisdiction. The OOR ruled that it does have jurisdiction and extended the comment period. A final decision is awaited.

Jan 2012 Update: The OOR ruled in favor of MAREA and ordered the DEP to turn over all requested records. The DEP responded by appealing the case to the Court of the Commonwealth. The DEP was required to file a full briefing by Jan 9, 2012 but requested and received a 30-day extension. The DEP's full briefing is now due by Feb 9, 2012. Once received, MAREA will have 30 days to respond.

Sept 2012 Update: On Sept 12, the Court ruled affirming MAREA's Right to Know, upholding the Office of Open Records decision ordering the DEP to release the records within 30 days. At this point, it appears the DEP can either ask the Court to reconsider, appeal to the PA Supreme Court, or provide the requested data.

Oct 2012 Update: The DEP complied with the Court order and provided MAREA will all requested data, however, the opportunity to work in support of HB 1580 had passed.

January 2013 Update: MAREA is working to develop project plan and attract funding to begin the longitudinal study described above. This will establish a community of solar system owners in PA that can be reached and mobilized to support future opportunities for solar and distributed generation.

January 2014 Update: The Solar Rebate Program ended in Dec 2013 (all funds were distributed). A new Right To Know Request was filed with the DEP and on Jan 13, 2014, MAREA received the full records for ALL solar electric systems (7,000) funded under this 4-1/2 year program. Meanwhile, a new bill HB 100 has been introduced (Representative Greg Vitali) to revise the PA AEPS. MAREA will use the data awarded through the Right to Know Request, to contact and organize solar electric system owners.

January 2016 Update: HB 100 was reintroduced by Rep. Vitali, and has been referred to the Consumer Affairs Committee. It has not been brought up for a vote. MAREA has not issued a report.

August 2019 Update: No action has been taken on the bill since the last update, but recall from Lesson 1 that in April of 2018, the PA Public Utility Commission (PA PUC) issued a final implementation order to Act 40 of 2017. This Act achieves part of PA House Bill 1580 by requiring all new SRECs to be generated by facilities inside of the state's borders. There are some exceptions, notably SREC contracts signed with out-of-state systems prior to October 30, 2017 and SRECs that have been "banked" (saved for future years), which can be used for a period of 3 years. Flett Exchange summarizes Act 40 of 2017 thus: "The commission ruled that unless an out of state solar facility has a binding contract for their SRECs with a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) buyer prior to October 30th 2017 the out of state solar facility will no longer have PA state certification on their SRECs after October 30th 2017.  The SRECs generated (month of generation) prior to October 30th 2017 from an out of state solar facility will retain their PA state certification and the SRECs remain eligible for the full 3 compliance years."