Solar

Calling All US Solar Warriors: We Need to Stand Up for the Industry

We’ve all heard the solar statistics. Like how our industry has grown from $800 million in 2006 to $15 billion today. Or the fact that we’re now installing 20 gigawatts globally in two years, which had taken 40 years to complete before. Three consecutive years of growth, more than 150,000 Americans directly employed, nine out of ten Americans support solar, solar’s responsible for more than half of the new electric generation capacity installed in Q1 and Q2 of this year, etc. etc. It’s easy to get lost in all the milestones we’ve reached and the positive impact we’re having on our local economies, our aging grid, our energy independence—and let’s not forget — the environment.

But what happens next? Specifically, what happens if the ITC drops from 30 percent to 10 percent? Will all the bar graphs still show a rising trend beyond 2016? Or will all of our ancillary partners and businesses cease to exist if there’s that much smaller of an industry to cover and support?

So, again, what happens next? This is a question the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) public relations committee planned on brainstorming at last month’s Solar Power International (SPI) conference in Las Vegas. A brainstorm all of us begrudgingly know should have started a year ago. As an advisory committee, with more than 35 membership organizations represented, we meet via conference call every two weeks to discuss the ways the SEIA member base can support our premiere U.S. solar trade association. Our committee’s focus is on working with SEIA staff on crafting and disseminating the right messages to the right audiences at the right time.

The plan was to meet at SPI, because what better opportunity is there for us to meet in person than at our industry’s largest annual event? It took me ten minutes to make it from the back of the exhibit hall to the front, and two more to climb the escalators to the meeting rooms upstairs, just to realize that the room I was looking for was actually downstairs and in the back of the exhibit hall where I’d just been. Now I was late. I picked up the pace, and flew past the booth babes at RECOM (does that actually work?) and the beers being passed around at TerraSmart’s booth (and I was thirsty!) because I knew this meeting, was important — possibly the most.   

I burst into the meeting room we’d reserved, out of breath and disheveled. Sitting around a table set for 40, were three SEIA staff members, a SEIA board member, and the PR committee chair and vice chair.

“Is it over?” I asked, wondering if there’s a time difference between San Francisco and Las Vegas I didn’t factor in. “Did I miss it?”

The room reassured me that I was in the right place and the right time, but that we figured people were just having trouble finding it. The Polycom in the middle of the table beeped while we waited for any committee members who couldn’t make it in person, to dial in, but nobody called. We started the meeting 15 minutes late, and there were still no more stragglers who joined us.

I’m not telling you this story because I’m looking for a pat on the back. I selfishly went to the meeting because I get a lot of value from collaborating with my peers and the SEIA staff. I’m not telling you this because we weren’t productive. The discussion we had was great!  I’m telling you what happened because I think the lack of support and enthusiasm for this specific meeting is illustrative of our industry as a whole.

As an industry in its infancy, we need to fight for the support we want and throw punches with whatever resources we have — however limited they are.

The Koch-linked Americans for Prosperity is already lobbying against the wind production tax credit (PTC), and it could be assumed that they might come after solar and the ITC next. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when breathing clean air became a blue versus red issue — but it has, and it shouldn’t be. We need to vocalize our support for this growing industry and its proven track record overseas, and as a country ensure that we’re successfully developing it on American soil. After all, that is the American way, right?

SEIA can only do so much with the limited funds they’re operating with, and like most initiatives, the more you put in, the more you get out. We need to put more in. If that means joining SEIA at a higher membership level, then so be it. If money isn’t an option, than participate in the committees you have access to. And that doesn’t mean calling in and putting the call on mute. Call in and speak up!

The question is not what will happen without the ITC? But rather, what can we do to extend it? It’s not too late to play a role in this nation’s energy future. It’s not too late to share some positive solar messaging with your neighbors or local press. It’s not too late to reach out to your elected officials and request they fight for solar to have the same incentives the oil and gas industry has and are still getting. It’s not too late to demand a level playing field. We’ve reached a critical mass that has perked up the ears of the faceless suits on Wall Street, but we have so much more work to do.  

Sure it’s hard to have a full time job, and mouths to feed, and still find time to volunteer and support our industry as a whole, but you’ve got to. Because YOU are a solar warrior. 

Lead image: Warriors via Shutterstock