Interview: Jan McFarland of PVMA and ASPV

In the flurry of activity following the defeat of SB1 by the California Assembly, formed this Q&A conversation with Jan McFarland, Executive Director of both the Photovoltaic Manufacturer’s Association (PVMA) and Americans for Solar Power (ASPV), and formerly Executive Director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. She devoted months to working up front and behind the legislative scene on SB1. Here’s what Ms. McFarland had to say:

REA: Let’s begin… JM: We are not going to let an IBEW and IOUs monopolize the Sun. REA: That’s the answer before the question. With this initial defeat of SB1 in the legislature, what are the important next steps to make Solar happen for California? JM: The solar industry will continue to work on establishing good working relationships with all of the trades. We do not believe that choosing one trade over another is a good strategy for the industry to take. There will be enough work for all of the trades. I was very disappointed that the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) was not willing to come to the table. Former Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, who is very respected in both the labor and environmental communities, was asked to serve as a neutral party and help find common ground with the IBEW. Unfortunately, these meetings never took place, and the IBEW choose to resolve this issue in the Assembly. REA: Why did they choose this path? JM: I believe the real division may in fact be within IBEW who has long track record of fighting against renewables, new technology and distributed generation. I am aware of several IBEW members that have been installing systems for years that were shut out. I believe they were silenced because PV installers are distributed generation not centralized power producers. It does not appear that the IBEW reached out to the Apollo Alliance or other trades such as the Laborers and Carpenters. REA: So the IBEW was dead set against SB1 from the beginning? JM: Yesterday I heard an IBEW person tell a reporter that there was no need for this bill as the IOUs (Investor-Owned Utilities) had just signed contracts for several hundred MWs of central station solar power. There is no question that battle is between central station vs. distributed generation. The reality is we that we need both — our state government and legislature must figure out how to rise to the occasion. The only conclusion I can make is that the IBEW was intent on killing SB 1. REA: You’ve devoted a lot of time to passage of SB1, so where do you go from here? JM: The good news is the Governor is directing the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) to fill the leadership gap. I am very confident that PUC President Peevey and Commissioners Dian Grueneich, John Bohn, Geoffrey Brown and Susan Kennedy will act decisively to fill the leadership gap. The solar industry has developed a solid analytical record at the PUC / CEC (California Energy Commission) through the California Solar Initiative and cost-benefit methodology proceedings over the past year. The PUC can, and I believe will, fully fund a comprehensive solar program for the residential, commercial, retrofit and new construction markets. Where we are today just underscores how important is to have a solid back up plan. REA: What are your next immediate steps to put “Plan B” into motion? JM: Americans for Solar Power (ASPv) and other key industry, environmental and ratepayer organizations are all prepared to focus like a laser beam on the PUC and CEC processes. The Photovoltaic Manufacturer’s Association (PVMA) highest priority is developing strong bipartisan support to lift the metering cap next year in the Legislature. The challenge in all of these efforts is to educate the public, state government and the legislature on the critical need and importance of PV distributed generation. More work needs to be done to convince legislators and others that Distributed Generation can and should play an important role in California’s electrical supply system. REA: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us!
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