People Power for Solar Power

From the deserts of Nevada to the hollers of West Virginia, and everywhere in between, Americans love our solar. Survey after survey shows that solar energy is supported by large majorities of Americans from across the political spectrum. A 2018 Pew Research Center poll once again put the number at nearly 9 out of 10 U.S. adults who favor increasing the amount of solar energy powering our country. Solar is one thing that unites us even in this divided time. And we’ve seen that solar supporters coming together can take on powerful opponents, and win. 

That’s why  Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors, two national non-prit solar advocacy organizations, are joining forces to launch an “I Love My Solar” postcard campaign.  Our goal is to give the solar industry an easy way to help customers across all 50 states flex their political power and be part of a stronger clean energy movement. 

State policy shapes our nation’s electricity markets and therefore the opportunities for solar progress Monopoly utilities and the fossil fuel industry are well-represented in these corridors of power. But we see time and again that when the solar-loving public does engage, great things happen. Our elected leaders need to see that regular homeowners, farms, schools, businesses and churches in their district are going solar, saving money and creating great local jobs in their district. It is time for solar owners to be seen and to be counted!

Take the case of Nevada, where solar owners rose up to reverse the end of the end of net metering in the state. The 2015 decision stalled the market, killed thousands of local jobs, and hiked rates for 30,000 existing solar customers. In response, those outraged customers were looking for ways to engage in the policymaking process like never before. For them, it was personal. 

For the next year and a half, Vote Solar worked with Nevada solar customers, the industry, and a truly inspiring coalition of environmental, equity, and community-based organizations to make sure that state leaders were getting the message from their constituents: right this solar wrong. Solar owners showed up at massive rallies at formerly-sleepy regulatory agency meetings and lobby days at the capitol. Out of the ashes of the 2015 decision rose powerful community organizing and ultimately a historic 2017 legislative session during which a whopping 11 clean energy bills made it to the Governor’s desk, including one to restore net metering. As a result, applications to the state’s SolarGenerations rooftop solar program jumped from just 287 in 2016 to nearly 15,000 in 2018. And solar’s political power was flexed in new ways. Post 2016 election Nevada polling found the winning U.S. Senate candidate’s pro-solar stance played a determinative role against her anti-solar opponent.

Or, look to West Virginia. Solar homeowners stood up to monopoly utilities who tried to convince the legislature to end net metering in 2015. More than 1,000 comments were sent to legislators telling them to back off our solar rights! Rather than gut net metering, the legislature instead instructed the Public Service Commission (PSC) to “study” the issue. This initiated a four-year-long stakeholder process, and the PSC issued a ruling this spring that protects net metering.

These are some of the many examples that give us heart that when solar supporters organize, we win. To do so requires  substantively organizing, educating and building relationships beyond the confines of any one policy fight or election.

Which all brings us back to the “I Love My Solar” postcard campaign, which makes it easy and fun for solar owners  to get started by sending their own pro-solar messages to their key elected officials: State Legislators, Governors, and Members of Congress. The online platform allows participants to easily upload photos of their solar energy systems and customize their own message of solar support. This digital content is then converted into physical postcards and mailed to the appropriate policymakers. Importantly, action-takers will also have the opportunity to move beyond this first digital step to engage more deeply in our ongoing grassroots advocacy efforts and become part of the clean energy movement.

There are nearly two million solar installations nationwide, many of which are directly powering households and businesses that we can turn into solar activists. These solar customers, like solar supporters, are politically diverse. A 2017 PowerScout study found in mature solar markets Republicans and Democrats install solar at nearly equal rates. Solar customers also are passionate about and moved to take action on solar policy issues. One Vote Solar test showed that solar customers were five times more likely to engage in a solar-specific grassroots action than their non-solar counterparts, an understandable outcome given their literal investment in the issue. 

Those two million solar owners will grow exponentially in the years ahead. That’s a lot of latent political power waiting to be tapped and put to work shaping policy wins at utility commissions and in state legislatures nation-wide. If you share our goal of wanting every single home, or business to have the opportunity to install their own rooftop or community solar , please join our “I  Love My Solar” postcard campaign. If you are in the solar industry, connecting your customers to this campaign will help channel their energy to drive the system-wide change that Americans want and our climate crisis demands.  


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Adam Browning is Executive Director and Co-founder of Vote Solar, a non-profit organization with the mission of repowering the U.S. with clean energy through effective state-level policy advocacy. Anya Schoolman is Executive Director and Founder of Solar United Neighbors, a national organization dedicated to representing the needs and interests of solar owners and supporters.

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