Actors hired to play consumers in bid to thwart renewable energy in new orleans techdirt gas oil ratio for weed eater

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The nation’s largest, incumbent utilities continue to engage in some pretty shady behavior to try and stop the unstoppable renewable energy (r)evolution. In Florida, for example, we noted how one utility created an entirely bogus consumer group with one purpose: to hamstring solar competition. The group, "Consumers For Smart Solar," was built specifically by utilities to try and push legislation that claimed to support solar energy, but actually applied all manner of backward and obnoxious restrictions to the alternative energy industry.

As these companies work to craft legislation that makes it harder on renewable competitors, they’ve ramped up the use of astroturfing to provide the illusion of broad consumer support for their efforts. Not to be outdone by their colleagues in Florida, one Louisiana utility appears to have hired a bunch of actors to express their enthusiastic support for the construction of a gas-based power plant that had been struggling with public approval. Locals had opposed the construction, arguing that claims that the plant was needed to shore up lagging capacity didn’t hold up, and the utility should instead focus on modernization of existing lines.

"At least four of the people in orange shirts were professional actors. One actor said he recognized 10 to 15 others who work in the local film industry. They were paid $60 each time they wore the orange shirts to meetings in October and February. Some got $200 for a “speaking role,” which required them to deliver a prewritten speech, according to interviews with the actors and screenshots of Facebook messages provided to The Lens.

"Astroturfing," or the act of generating bogus grass roots public support for arguably unpopular policies, was a concept perfected by the broadband industry years ago. Whether it was paying people to attend meetings or the creation of bogus consumer groups to attack net neutrality, creating the illusion of support is a longstanding American tradition. It tends to be confusing to the general public, so by and large it’s something traditional press outlets don’t deem worthy of covering. But it routinely pollutes public discourse, and directly and routinely results in crap policy and law that doesn’t reflect the will of the (actual) public.

In this case, locals believe the actors were likely hired by a utility company by the name of Entergy through a company creatively named Crowds on Demand (there’s a long list of companies that do this, though most like to operate under the radar). But Entergy denies the claim, and promises it will look into it and take "appropriate action if warranted":

"“While we reiterate that Entergy did not pay, nor did we authorize any other person or entity to pay supporters to attend or speak at Council meetings, we recognize that our interactions with our stakeholders must always be based on honesty and integrity,” the company said.

Because it’s not illegal for companies to hire actors to actively mislead the public and corrupt the democratic process, nothing much comes of these revelations. And while these kinds of efforts obviously can’t stop natural market evolutions like the shift toward renewable, lower-pollution alternative energy options, they certainly do a great job making meaningful evolutionary progress that much slower and cumbersome.