Think the US Solar Industry Doesn’t Need the Solar ITC? Think Again.

“What I’m worried about is the end of the ITC,” said Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar a solar developer based in Maryland during an interview at Intersolar North America. In preparation for a presentation that he was giving at the show, Clifford sought out studies other than those conducted by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) about what will happen to solar in the U.S. should the ITC go away. He wanted to look beyond SEIA, the lobbying arm of the industry, because Clifford said he would expect SEIA to say the end of the ITC will be catastrophic for the solar industry, it is a lobbying organization after all. While he does believe the industry will be harmed he wanted to see what other independent studies were showing.

The other studies really opened his eyes. “The Energy Information Agency of DOE basically said 0 percent of utility-scale [solar will be built] after the ITC and a lot of people say that,” he said. “And a huge drop in distributed generation, basically off a cliff.” Clifford pointed out that Stanford Business School came out with a report in April, saying that solar would fall “basically off a cliff.” Further, he said that the solar institute of George Washington University also has a report showing the solar industry “going off a cliff,” he said.

“I think a lot of people in the industry are whistling past the graveyard,” he said, “because they are not really focusing on it.”

Indeed Renewable Energy World magazine asked solar industry stakeholders the same question for last month’s digital edition, called the “Solar Issue” and found that there is a belief that solar industry costs have fallen enough that the industry will withstand the ITC drop. Clifford disagrees. “Take a look at the Southeast,” he said, “where you can barely make the numbers work now with a 30 percent ITC — that market goes away,” he said.  “You look at the Midwest, the upper Midwest like Minnesota, where they are starting to do some things and Illinois, same deal. You can make some deals pencil now but without the ITC that market’s gone away.”

Clifford said the Stanford Study, which analyzed the utility, commercial and residential markets in California, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey, particularly alarmed him. “Their assessment is that the only thing that will work after 2016 is commercial in California. Beyond that, they say that solar is distinctly uncompetitive on a levelized cost of energy basis.”

A Winnable Fight

But what can the solar industry do about it? Start fighting, said Clifford. And one way of fighting is by contributing to the political action committee, otherwise known as the SolarPAC. Clifford took a look at how much money was in the SolarPAC, the fund used by lobbyists to get in front of Congress and argue their points, and divided that number by 174,000 solar workers. He determined that there was about $0.46 per worker. 

“Compare that to whatever the budget of the Koch brothers is or any of the fossil fuel industry lobbyists,” he said.  “We should all take out some personal unemployment insurance by putting 150 bucks this year and 150 bucks next year into PAC and that would give us a war chest of 50 million dollars.”

Clifford thinks the fight is winnable because “solar has popular support,” he said. “For decades it has been 70-90 percent but that’s ‘soft support’ and in DC ‘soft support’ is support not backed by money.”

“We are a real industry now, granted an adolescent industry, but we have to step up as individuals,” he said.

To read Renewable Energy World magazine’s “Big Question,” in which solar industry stakeholders weigh in on the solar ITC, click here.

Lead image: Whistling past the graveyard. Credit: Shutterstock.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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