Can you win this Bluff the Reader game?

Here are two recent websites.

Can you guess which one is real news and which one is the hoax? No Googling and put your answers in as a comment below!













Thanks for playing!

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My Statement to the TVA Board on Major Rate Change Approved May 10, 2018

On May 10, 2018, one week before the Tennessee Valley Authority’s 85th anniversary, I made the trip to historic Muscle Shoals, Alabama in order to publicly deliver my comments to the TVA board meeting before their planned vote on their rate restructuring policy, which includes a new mandatory fee on the wholesale rate of electricity charged by TVA to their 154 captive local power companies.

You can read my comments in full below, and see the comments from others who joined a statement issued immediately after this poorly-conceived rate design was approved. This decision comes on the heels of continued distrust and public outcry over TVA executives’ ongoing lack of transparency, unjustified spending on luxury air travel, and out of touch “leadership” of the people of the Tennessee Valley. It is further evidence of the tone deaf leadership currently in control of TVA and comes just days before the agency commemorates 85 years in the Tennessee Valley region.

Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Statement Addressing TVA Board Meeting 

How many of you have ever attended a public service or utility commission hearing on rate making? [I asked this of the TVA Board because none of the current Board members appear to have any electric regulatory experience, yet are the regulators of 154 local power companies rates in 7 southeastern states and were on the verge of making a monumental rate design decision without any independent rate review] Likely very few, if any? It has been with great difficulty that my staff and I have attempted to seek public information on the regressive rate change that is before you today. Initially, we were led to believe that TVA’s rate change was designed to help advance Distributed Energy Resources (DER). It was only through a series of leaked documents, partially filled FOIA submissions, and multiple open records requests that clearly showed us this was indeed deception on a grand scale.

TVA’s intent all along has been to use its self-regulated federal monopoly rate authority to negatively distort the market for energy efficiency and customer owned solar power and shift a greater share of the perceived risk for lower demand growth on to its captive LPC servants. The sad, and yes immoral, unintended consequence will be adding more cost to our region’s low and fixed income citizens.

In almost every other state, including every state surrounding TVA’s service territory, has an independent state regulatory commission to review and attempt to fairly engage an open public proceeding before an incumbent utility is allowed to change its rates. Not here, no, that’s not how we roll… After initially threatening a “categorical exclusion” under NEPA, TVA’s only half-hearted attempt at public engagement, TVA staff put together a hastily prepared Environmental Assessment (EA). The draft EA raised more questions than it answered, and then TVA denied our request for a public meeting for more clarity and also denied our request for a comment period extension. Then, on cue, 72 hours before today’s board meeting, TVA quietly releases the final EA, failing to adequately respond to the over 1,700 public comments raising concerns about this rate action, and at times seemly mocking the commenters for not fully understanding TVA’s slides that were not provided openly by TVA with explanation to the affected public, but had to gather through open records requests from behind closed-door meetings with limited stakeholders. Read more…

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Big Power Company Money Fuels State Campaigns in Florida

Money and its potential to corrupt is at the very center of complaints about today’s politics. Regardless of your political stripe, one thing most of us can agree upon is that money in politics leads to policies that hurt everyday people.

A report authored by the  nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida,   2018 Power Play Redux: Political Influence of Florida’s Top Energy Corporationsshows that money in politics continues to be a huge problem in the Sunshine State. Florida’s four biggest power companies’ political spending to state level candidates, political parties, and political committees grew to more than $43 million in the 2014 and 2016 political cycles (more than double the spending from 2002 through 2012). Moreover, the power companies, FPL, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric, and Gulf Power collectively employ 90 to 100 legislative contract lobbyists – that’s more than 1 lobbyist for every 2 legislators!

Among other policy options, the report recommends a prohibition on campaign contributions from regulated utilities to state candidates and political committees that support or oppose state candidates in order to stem the tide of power company money flowing into state campaigns.

How much utility money has your state candidate accepted? Ask them. It matters. The influence of tens of millions of dollars leads to energy policies by elected officials and regulators that often benefit utility shareholders at the expense of everyday customers. Consider the following few policy examples that  unnecessarily push your electricity bill higher.

Customers get stuck holding the bag on billions of dollars of nuclear cost recovery for reactors that will never produce a single kWh of electricity. FPL customers have already paid close to $300 million for proposed reactors at its Turkey Point plant that will likely never be built and never produce any power – pursuant to the early cost recovery law that shifts all the financial risk of building reactors from shareholders and places it squarely on the shoulders of customers. Likewise, Duke Energy Florida customers got stuck with over $3.2 Billion in costs in 2014 from the failed repair of the CR3 reactor and the abandonment of the proposed Levy reactors  (although the impact has since been partially mitigated) – both projects utilized the early cost recovery law. Read more…

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Attend Hearing on TVA’s Proposed Small Modular Reactors

TVA is pursuing an undeveloped, expensive, risky technology known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) at their previously abandoned Clinch River Site, near Kingston, TN. See fly-in video here showing the location. In 2016, TVA submitted an early site permit application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for possibly 800-megawatts of new nuclear power generation. The NRC has now issued the draft environmental impact statement (EIS).

They are holding public meetings to get your feedback.

These experimental reactors are Squandering More Resources as they are not needed and are extremely expensive, with no actual approved reactor designs. SMRs are significantly more water-intensive than affordable, clean energy choices such as wind, solar and energy efficiency. And just like existing nuclear power plants, they produce long-lived, highly radioactive nuclear waste for which no safe management and permanent storage exists.

Please join us on June 5th to express your concerns!

When: June 5; hearing #1 from 2-4PM, hearing #2 from 7-9PM; more info here
Where: Noah’s Event Venue, 1200 Ladd Landing Boulevard, Kingston, Tennessee

Can’t attend? You can submit written comments online to the NRC by July 10, 2018:

By email:
By mail: May Ma, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWFN–07–A60, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555–0001

Find more information on SMRs here and the NRC’s summary of the draft EIS here. If you have questions about this risky project, email SACE’s Sara Barczak at

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My switch to Virtual Solar

I’ve enrolled in the new Virtual Solar program offered by my utility in Georgia, Sawnee EMC. For several years, I’ve been enrolled in their Green Power program, which produces electricity from landfill gas. So I was eager to explore this new program announced earlier this year (March 2018).

Virtual Solar is promoted as an alternative for customers who aren’t able to purchase and install their own solar systems — for instance, those who rent homes, have trees shading our property, or for those of us whose neighborhood covenants (currently) prohibit solar. Participating in this program also means that I don’t have to worry about maintenance nor any third-party finance arrangements.

And unlike some community solar programs, I don’t have to purchase the panels up-front, either. Instead, I’m paying a monthly fee for each block of 10 solar panels that help to power my house. At present (April-September), that fee for each block is $21.75/month. In the “off season” (October-March), when the panels produce less, the monthly fee is discounted to $15.50/month.

Read more…

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EV Charging Comes to New Port Richey, FL

This guest blog written by New Port Richey Mayor, Rob Marlowe, highlights how forward-looking leadership can propel emerging technologies like electric vehicle charging in communities. Public EV charging distinguishes communities as a thriving destination-giving an economic advantage to neighboring areas who lack public charing.  Adopting this clean technology also demonstrates a commitment to their citizens’ and community’s health with reductions in toxic emissions.  Read on to learn Mayor Marlowe’s vision.

Mayor Marlowe shows his support for the NextCar Pledge

My son is in the US Navy.  Two years ago, he deployed to Japan and left his Plugin Prius with us.  The local Toyota dealer told us that it was a car that needed to be driven, so I took on that responsibility.  It didn’t take long for me to appreciate how much of my driving I could do without gasoline.  My last fill up netted right at 105mpg.  My Silverado now spends most of its time in the driveway.  I signed the Next Car Pledge last fall and the only question at this point will be whether my next car will have a gasoline engine to go along with the electric motor.

Read more…

The evolution of clean cars – an interview with a new Tesla Model 3 owner

SACE Board President, John Noel, recently bought the new Tesla Model 3. I had a chance to chat with him recently about his new purchase and discuss his thoughts on the vehicle. In case you’ve missed the headlines, the Model 3 is Tesla’s latest vehicle release and has been touted as the Tesla for everyone, and it’s the most “affordable” Tesla currently available (it starts at a base price of $35,000 before incentives, has 60-kWh and 75-kWh battery options, with an EPA-rated 215-mile range and 330 miles respectively).

John is “all in” on electric transportation. He owned the very first hybrid vehicle in the South, a Honda Insight, he purchased from California decades ago. He drove the Insight until the all-electric Nissan LEAF was released. He later also purchased a Plug-in Toyota Prius Prime to help with longer range trips that were difficult in his first generation 70-80 mile range LEAF. He is now the proud owner of a Tesla Model 3. John believes that all-electric cars are simply easier and better for the planet. “It took people 10 years to understand what [hybrid] technology was,” he said about when he first got the car, but all-electric technology is different, simpler.

SACE Board President, John Noel, stands with his Tesla Model 3

Having now owned many different electric cars, I asked John about his favorite thing about driving electric, especially the Model 3. Not surprisingly, the answer isn’t straightforward – there are simply too many benefits he has experienced since owning the car. For one, it runs on electricity – the car does not pollute, it’s quiet and he feels safe. Tesla, as an automaker, is the only U.S. manufacturer in the Consumer Reports Top 10 list. A full review of the Model 3 by the rating agency has yet to be completed. What we do know is that the car comes standard with forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking.

Read more…

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Join #MayDayTVA Thunderclap and Help Sound Alarm on Rate Scheme

Join our Thunderclap Today: Say NO to TVA’s Rate Scheme!

On the morning of TVA’s next board meeting, held in a remote town in Alabama on May 10th, we need your help sounding the alarm on TVA’s rate scheme! With your help, we can reach our goal of 100 followers and ripple a loud message across social media: Tennessee Valley customers are against this rate proposal! It only takes a few seconds to join our Thunderclap, which allows you (and hopefully your friends!) to donate a Tweet or Facebook post that goes live at 8aM on May 10th, just as the TVA Board Meeting is getting started.

In case you haven’t heard, TVA is proposing changes to their rate structure that will mean less control over your power bill, more fees, and higher monthly bills. On May 10, the TVA Board of Directors will consider this rate proposal at their board meeting scheduled to be held in Muscle Shoals, Alabama – a very inaccessible place for the majority of TVA’s customers. Despite our request, TVA is not hosting public forums about this proposed rate structure and they denied our request to extend the public commenting period beyond 30 days, which we felt was way too short for a decision that will impact millions of customers in the TVA service territory. Join us in sounding the alarm! Read more…

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Write a Letter for South Carolina Solar Today!

Charleston Rooftop SolarWith just two weeks left in this energy-focused South Carolina legislative session, the Legislature has not passed anything to ensure the protection of customers’ access to solar power as a way to control energy costs. One of several solar bills that were introduced came close to passing the House a few weeks ago before getting killed by a last-minute rule change, while the other solar bills did not receive hearings fast enough to even come to a vote.

The path forward for solar in this legislative session is not clear, but we need to make sure that legislators know it is a priority.

Will you please write a quick letter to the editor of your local paper to draw more attention to the need for the Legislature to ensure fair access to solar power? Feel free to take inspiration from the talking points below, and adapt them to your liking. Then, below, find the links to your local paper’s instructions on how to submit your letter.

Alternatively, just write a quick note to your legislators directly and encourage them to support pro-solar policy. Find their contact information here.

Read more…

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Sun Continues to Shine on Florida; Solar Lease Gets Green Light

Do you want to power your home with a rooftop solar system, but don’t want to spend the upfront cash for a system, or don’t want the responsibility of maintaining the system? Then here’s some good news:  you may soon have the option of using a solar equipment lease to power your home! The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) just approved  a petition by Sunrun, a major solar company, that gives the company a green light to start offering its residential solar lease here in Florida.

What is (or is not) a solar equipment lease?             

A solar lease is not a retail sale of power from a solar provider to the homeowner. Instead, the customer leases the solar system equipment and makes payments for the use of the system over a period of years. Solar leases can be structured so customers: pay no up-front costs; are provided maintenance for the system; and have the option  to purchase the system at the end of the lease term. Similar leasing structures are commonly used in many other industries, including automobiles and office equipment.

In Florida, the solar lease can’t be structured as a sale of power, nor be construed as selling power to a customer. A sale of power to a retail customer is the exclusive purview of the incumbent electric utility.  The prohibition is found in state statute that defines a utility as supplying electricity to and for the public. The Florida Supreme Court held in 1988 that the “public” includes supplying electricity to even one retail customer. Care is required in drafting a Florida solar equipment lease as payments based on the output of the system or performance guarantees are surely to be construed as a retail sale of power.

Why is a solar equipment lease just coming to the Florida market now?

Prior to this year, Florida had a burdensome tangible personal property tax – assessed on non-real estate business property. The tax was applied to a number of items – including leased rooftop solar systems – which priced leased systems out of customers’ reach. Florida voters changed all that in 2016 – when they overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4. The approval of Amendment 4 by voters, and the passage of SB 80 by the Legislature last year, significantly reduced tangible personal property taxes – including on leased residential solar equipment. With the tax burden lifted, the solar lease is a now an economically viable solar product in the Sunshine State.

Kudos to Sunrun for being the first solar company out of the gate to seek the regulatory green light for a state-wide solar leasing program. Sunrun, in late 2017, filed a declaratory statement petition asking the PSC to approve the structure of a proposed solar lease to be offered in Florida – specifically to find that it does not constitute a retail sale of power. The Commission first considered Sunrun’s petition at its March 1st Agenda Conference – and Sunrun got a cool reception. The Commission defied its staff recommendation and refused to approve the proposed lease structure without first reviewing of the actual lease. Sunrun subsequently filed its proposed Florida lease on March 19th.

During the recent April 20th Agenda Conference, the commissioners were gracious to Sunrun and thanked them for filing the lease for the PSC’s review. At the end of a short question and answer session, the PSC unanimously approved Item 5, Sunrun’s petition.

PSC Chairman Art Graham stated in a press release that  “[r]esidential equipment leasing makes solar more attractive for some customers, and today’s decision confirms that.  In its declaratory statement, the PSC found today that:

• Sunrun’s residential solar equipment lease does not constitute a sale of electricity;

• Offering its solar equipment lease to customers in Florida will not cause Sunrun to be a public utility under Florida law; and

• The residential solar equipment lease will not subject Sunrun or its customer-lessees to Commission regulation.

Sun continues to shine on the Sunshine State Read more…

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