According to a recent report published by watchdog organization The Energy and Policy Institute, utility ratepayers are being forced to fund political groups such as the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) that fight against clean energy. In fact, the EEI's budget of $90 million in 2015 was the highest in decades, an increase that the nation's electric utility customers helped pay for.
The EEI and similar trade associations, which promote fracking and natural gas infrastructure, propose bailouts for nuclear power plants, and spread misinformation regarding the science of climate change, charge dues to every investor-owned electric utility company in the United States in exchange for representation and political influence. The utilities then assign a significant portion of these dues to ratepayers. The Energy and Policy Institute report highlights Georgia Power, which charged 71 percent of its dues to electricity customers and only 29 percent to shareholders in 2016.
However, it wasn't always like this. For a time between the 1980s and early 2000s, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) investigated the EEI's use of utility customer money and conducted annual audits of the organization's financial records. Because of the regulation during this period, utilities collected a significantly smaller portion of their dues from ratepayers.
Unfortunately, the NARUC quit performing audits over a decade ago, causing external oversight of the EEI's dues to fade away and be replaced by a system of self reporting that blurs the lines of what exactly ratepayers are funding. One thing is clear, though: electric utility customers are footing more of the bill than they did when the EEI was subject to external audits. Invoices from the EEI to the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company reveal that member dues increased by a total of 26 percent from 2011 to 2016, while Florida Power & Light is on track to recover more than $2.4 million from ratepayers in 2018, up over $1 million from 2008.
Although not all of the ratepayer-funded activities carried out by trade organizations such as the EEI are technically classified as "lobbying" by the Internal Revenue Code, they are still political in nature and do not benefit the utility customers who are covering the bill. Further, the majority of Americans do not agree with these efforts, as is evident in the results of a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2016, which found that 65 percent of Americans favor the development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar over fossil fuels.
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