Bioenergy, Geothermal, Hydropower, Solar

As SPI Approaches, Solar Veterans Call for Change at SEIA, Showcase a Divided Industry

Unlike wind, geothermal, hydropower, and even biomass to some extent, which all rely on power purchase agreements (PPAs) with utilities in order for projects to be built, distributed solar generation (DG) is installed behind the meter and used to power individual homes and businesses with excess energy put back on the grid.

But solar can also be constructed at large-scale like the other renewables and fossil-fuel fired generation and make use of PPAs with utilities.

This key differentiator is driving a wedge into the U.S.-based association for solar professionals, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), whose critics say the organization doesn’t represent the entire industry but rather favors the utility-scale segment.

In order to change that dynamic at SEIA, two long-time solar energy veterans, Jigar Shah and Barry Cinnamon, have started a petition that seeks modifications to the organization and are asking the solar industry to sign it.  You can find the petition here.

At root of the issue is the SEIA board, made up of 30 voting members, two-thirds of which represent large-scale solar developers, according to Cinnamon. While SEIA says that it would like to have more companies from the DG side of the industry on the board and encourages those companies to join, the buy-in is way too steep, said Cinnamon.

“We have 7,000 companies who have less than $5M in sales, they don’t have $200,000 to spend,” he said.  “And you’d have to have 10 of those companies join simultaneously to get to the point where at least there is balance on the board,” he added.

Some Background

According to Cinnamon, who has been a member of SEIA going back to 2002, the board used to be much more evenly divided but as the industry evolved, the balance at the board tipped away from DG and toward utility-scale. At the same time, DG has become more widespread and utilities have launched attacks on the main driver for DG solar adoption net-metering and SEIA has not been fighting hard enough to keep it.

“From the standpoint of a residential installer, if we lose net-metering or if net-metering is reduced, it puts us out of business,” said Cinnamon.

The solar industry is now fractured into two very different camps. DG solar needs net-metering to thrive and the 7,000 small solar installation companies need help at the state level fighting attacks against that policy. On the other hand, some of the largest U.S. solar companies, companies that are also on the SEIA executive board, have gone on record against net-metering, according to Cinnamon.

While Cinnamon said neither he nor Jigar Shah have the answer, they do have suggestions for what they are looking for, which you can see below, taken from a letter that Cinnamon submitted to Renewable Energy World:

1) Changing the way SEIA prioritizes activities towards a more democratic approach that responds directly to a representative cross-section of industry members, particularly:

a. Renewable Portfolio Standards
b. Net Metering
c. Interconnection
d. Codes and standards
e. Property Taxes
f. Ballot Initiatives

2) Bringing all of the State SEIA chapters into the SEIA family with Executive Directors being paid by SEIA and having a formal role on the Board in proportion to their ability to fundraise from their $5M-$100M revenue members.

3) Continuing to have high quality staff in DC that plays offense and defense at the Federal level to weigh in on the Clean Power Plan, PURPA, and many other issues.

4) Hiring an executive director with proven leadership experience that can double thebudget of SEIA by bringing in profitable mid-sized companies.

Cinnamon believes that the owners of the 1,000,000 solar installations in the country as well as the people who helped install them would make a veritable lobbying army if SEIA could figure out how to mobilize them.

“We can and should use this moment to coordinate our message to grow the power of our industry,” said Cinnamon.