With what look like blowouts waiting to happen in the 5th and 6th District races and the Senate runoff on Dec. 6, the only ideological fight still in doubt in this year’s Louisiana election cycle is the District 1 Public Service Commission race, where incumbent Eric Skrmetta is in the middle of an unexpectedly difficult battle against “Republican” pretender Forest Wright.
Wright actually managed to outpace Skrmetta in the primary, 38-37, with third-place finisher Allen Leone finishing with 24 percent. Leone, one of those chronic candidates who runs and loses every time there’s an election for something that involves Jefferson Parish, has since endorsed Wright.
That would put Skrmetta at a seeming major disadvantage. But the race is a real outlier, largely for one reason – namely, that it’s a down-ballot race for a seat the voters generally don’t care about and there’s a major amount of low-information voting going on.
For example, nobody knows anything about who Forest Wright is. Hayride readers generally do, but sadly we don’t penetrate the electorate as much as we hopefully will in the future.
As such, nobody knows much of anything about what’s in Skrmetta’s latest ad…
The main reason Wright was able to steal such a march on Skrmetta in the primary was twofold. First, nobody expected much of a race, and therefore Skrmetta ran the kind of campaign you run when you expect to win easily. The only ad he ran hitting Wright was the cute Forrest Gump send-up he debuted in October. Meanwhile, a week before the election a bunch of out-of-state solar industry players dropped some $200,000 in PAC ads essentially calling Skrmetta a crook.
If you’re looking for a rule on races like the PSC, it’s this: since nobody really knows much about the PSC or what it does or who the candidates are, the incumbent pretty much always wins unless people think he’s a crook. If you can make people think the incumbent is a crook, he’s in trouble.
So the solar PAC ads scattered Skrmetta’s vote to Leone and partially to Wright. After all, everybody in the race was a Republican, so Republican voters who make up the vast majority of the electorate in a district made up of suburban New Orleans felt safe in voting for people other than the “crook” incumbent.
Skrmetta can factually defend the allegations made against him that he’s a crook; they’re BS. But the problem he’s had so far is making people understand what the ad talks about – that Wright isn’t just another Republican; rather, he’s a left-wing radical Democrat taking a sabbatical from a Soros-funded nonprofit which works to foist “alternative” energy on PSC ratepayers in order to run for the PSC. Here’s a little something from the mission statement of the “Alliance For Affordable Energy” Wright works for in his day job…
Because we are both a consumer watchdog and environmental advocacy organization, our policy work meets at the crossroads of social justice, sustainable economic development, and environmental protection.
Need we say more?
There is more, of course. Our buddy Kevin Boyd, who has been following this election and wrote a great piece last week here at the Hayride about lots of what’s wrong with Wright, also had something else at R Street outlining the stakes of the race – and why those solar companies would plow so much PAC money into trying to buy the PSC…
In 2007, Louisiana passed a tax credit for renewable energy that was seen as one of the most generous in the nation. The tax credit amounted for 50 percent of the first $25,000 of the cost of a system installed at a home or apartment complex. This is in addition to a 30 percent federal tax credit. In 2013, the Legislature passed a law that would phase out the program by 2017, after investigative reporting by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans found the program was costing the state tens of millions in lost tax revenue. In the meantime, residential solar installations have become very popular across Louisiana, with most solar contractors having more business than they can fulfill. Solar-leasing options have also become very popular in Louisiana and have resulted in the proliferation of the technology to the middle class.
With the pending loss of the very generous state solar tax credits — and the future of the federal credit in doubt — the solar industry has been pushing to maintain Louisiana’s generous “net metering” laws, which requires utilities to purchase solar power generated by homeowners at near-retail rates. Meanwhile, the current Public Service Commission has been trying to limit them by imposing a 0.5 percent cap, which means that a utility can stop offering net metering once 0.5 percent of its customers utilize it. They see non-solar users subsidizing solar users unfairly. Most solar users have to stay hooked to the grid because the sun doesn’t shine all the time.
Commissioner Eric Skrmetta has been a supporter of the cap, but he got behind a compromise offered by his fellow commissioner, Clyde Holloway, that would’ve lifted the cap, but allowed utilities to buy solar power at wholesale rates. His opponent, Forest Bradley-Wright, said this about the Holloway compromise:
Bradley-Wright spoke against Holloway’s plan, even though the rule in place now cuts off all net-metering benefits for future solar customers in a few jurisdictions. Better that than a rule that treats all solar customers, including those already getting net-metering, as wholesale power suppliers, he said.
‘The people who install solar systems under the state of Louisiana’s tax credits, which have been a real inspiration for many people to go solar, or under the context of the net-metering rules, are installing at a size that matches their own energy use needs, so they are not power sellers,’ he said.
Imagine a law that forced Starbucks to buy from any local coffee roasters who came to them, and do so at retail prices. Starbucks would have to raise prices on other items to offset the increased cost. Allowing utilities to buy home-generated solar power at wholesale cost is a fair deal for utilities, solar customers and non-solar customers.
As it stands now, the current net-metering schemes require Louisiana’s non-solar customers to subsidize solar customers, and that’s neither fair nor “free market.” Commissioner Holloway’s compromise would’ve leveled the playing field and lifted the arbitrary cap, which was put in place because of the additional costs that Louisiana’s numerous electrical cooperatives were paying.
But there’s really more at stake than just the solar giveaways those out-of-state manufacturers are hustling to preserve and expand. Putting Wright in Skrmetta’s seat on the PSC would be putting Foster Campbell in the chairman’s seat on that board. Understand that Louisiana’s power rates are among the lowest in the country, and also understand that those low rates are a major factor in the $100 billion in industrial capital investment planned for the state in the next few years. To change the ideological makeup of the PSC and put liberals in charge of it would be to jeopardize that $100 billion.
This we simply can’t do. The bet here is when voters in PSC District 1 actually understand the stakes of the race and the candidates in it, they’ll come to their senses and re-elect the conservative incumbent rather than the faux-Republican challenger with the questionable background.