A solar utility company that recently sought to defeat a bill before the Frederick County Council paid for ads and a letter campaign, but used another group’s name and logo.
Coronal Energy — a company seeking to operate two solar utility arrays in Frederick County — paid more than $4,000 for two ads that ran in The Frederick News-Post, according to published ad rates.
The ads featured the seal of the Utility-Scale Solar Energy Coalition (USSEC) of Maryland, but nothing indicating that Coronal Energy paid for them was included in the ads.
The letters — also paid for by Coronal, according to a statement from USSEC — featured letterhead from the coalition and did not disclose that Coronal was the sender. It is unknown what the letters cost to produce or how many were sent.
USSEC does not list a lobbyist with the Frederick County Ethics Commission, and the cost of the newspaper ads alone would have required registration.
But a lobbyist for the coalition confirmed Monday that USSEC did not pay for the ads or letters and was in compliance with the county’s lobbying rules, which require registration when a group spends $2,500 or more advocating for a bill’s outcome.
Rob Garagiola, who works for the Annapolis-based lobbying firm Alexander & Cleaver, also confirmed in an emailed statement on Monday that the letters “inadvertently” featured a signature line by Joshua D. Howe, executive director of the coalition and an employee of Alexander & Cleaver. The statement did not address whether USSEC authorized the use of its name and logo before the ads and letters were generated.
While Alexander & Cleaver generally does not engage with reporters on behalf of clients, Garagiola sent a statement in response to questions about whether USSEC spent money on the lobbying campaign without registering.
“Coronal is a member of the Utility-Scale Solar Energy Coalition (USSEC), is registered to lobby in Frederick County, and paid for all mailings and ads regarding the Frederick County solar ordinance,” Garagiola wrote, in a statement approved by USSEC.
“Both parties, Coronal and USSEC, are in full compliance with Frederick county ordinance and the law. The cost of the mailings and ads will be reflected as part of Coronal’s July 31 activity report as required by the Frederick County Ethics Commission,” the statement continued.
“Alexander & Cleaver’s address and Josh’s name were inadvertently included on the letter,” Garagiola wrote.
Garagiola is a registered lobbyist with the county ethics office, representing Nextera Energy Resources. Alexander & Cleaver represents USSEC at the state level.
Coronal registered a lobbyist with the county on May 5.
Messages left with four representatives of Coronal Energy were not returned Monday.
Senior Assistant County Attorney Linda Thall said Coronal’s lobbyist, Capitol Strategies, called the county’s ethics office recently to confirm that they intend to file the required expense report by the biannual deadline.
“They’re aware of the requirement and they will be complying with the statute,” Thall said.
The county’s ethics ordinance requires those lobbyists who spend more than $2,500 on their efforts to file activity and spending reports twice yearly, by July 31 and Jan. 31.
The ads and letters were not the full extent of Coronal’s lobbying efforts.
A polling company also conducted a telephone poll on behalf of Coronal Energy about attitudes toward rural solar generation before the hearing.
One of the company’s vice presidents, Andrew Foukal, offered testimony at a public hearing on the bill, introducing himself as a member of the Maryland D.C. Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association. Foukal holds a vice president position at Coronal Energy, which is a member of the association, but he was not authorized to formally represent MDV-SEIA’s position at the meeting. His affiliation with Coronal was not disclosed during the public hearing.
The County Council ultimately passed the bill, which allows solar farms on agricultural land, under limited circumstances. As passed, the bill could prevent Coronal Energy from installing a solar array off Legore Bridge Road that was in the approval process as the legislation was considered. Unless vetoed by County Executive Jan Gardner (D), the bill takes effect in July.