British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once famously declared: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Mr. Churchill had his tongue firmly planted in cheek, but that doesn’t make his statement any less true. Just like any form of government, democracy is prone to corruption, manipulation, and a whole host of unethical behaviors.
One of the most egregious instances to cross my radar in recent memory comes from Indiana, where Rep. Eric Koch, Chairman of House Utilities and Energy Committee, introduced a pair of bills that would prop up monopoly oil, gas, and electric utilities at the expense of the burgeoning rooftop solar industry and the renewable energy movement.
The first, HB 1321, designed to curtail regulation of Indiana’s oil and gas industries, was met with a flood of negative press over inherent conflicts of interest with Koch’s personal financial investments in these industries, forcing Koch to pull it.
The second, HB 1320, is unfortunately still alive, kicking, and equally beneficial to Rep. Koch’s bank account. HB 1320 would wipe out competition and choice in the electricity markets by weakening distributed solar energy policy in Indiana. It would eliminate the policy of solar net metering and impose taxes and fees on Indiana solar customers. In effect, this would kill the emerging rooftop solar market, which is the only real alternative Hoosiers have from big utilities like Duke Energy, American Electric Power (AEP), and Vectren.
This is not terribly surprising when you consider a recent Indianapolis Star report that Rep. Koch has a financial interest in no less than 30 oil and natural gas companies that would benefit from HB 1320’s restrictions on rooftop solar and distributed energy generation. According to the chairman’s own financial disclosure form, he holds more than $10,000 worth of stock in utilities like Consol Energy, Cheniere Energy, and Spectra Energy. So, if you’ll pardon the pun, it would appear the chairman has a lot of stock in ensuring that the rooftop solar market stalls.
And the ethics concerns don’t stop there. Campaign finance watchdogs would be interested to note the more than $39,000 in campaign cash Koch has collected from Indiana’s utility industry since 2002. Among the utilities lining Koch’s pockets is Duke Energy, which recently supported South Carolina becoming the 44th state in the country to offer net metering, but in a head-shaking twist of hypocrisy, also supports HB 1230 in Indiana!
HB 1320 promotes Indiana’s utilities over Indiana’s citizens, so it’s no wonder Hoosiers are adamantly opposed to it. As a public servant, Koch should be looking out for his constituents rather than his monopoly-aligned financial interests. Sadly, it appears that is not the case.
But the recent shelving of HB 1321 begs the question: If Koch suddenly had a crisis of conscience over that bill, why is HB 1320 still weaving its way through the halls of the Indiana state house?
Peter Allen is an independent media strategist based in San José, CA. You can read his many musings on Twitter @pjallen2.
(Editor's note: this commentary was originally published by CleanTechnica.com)