Inside solar lobby day: A newbie’s view of the Hill

By Pamela Cargill, principal at Chaolysti

Last week, I traveled to our nation’s capitol for the SEIA Board meeting, SEIA’s Women’s Empowerment event and a full day of meetings with legislators and administrative stakeholders on Capitol Hill. I serve as vice chair of SEIA’s distributed generation division, which looks after the interests of those working in behind-the-meter solar. For me, that means sticking up for the needs of small contractors.

Since my trip, I’ve had numerous people reach out to me to ask what happened on the Hill. What did I do? What happened? What was it like?

If you’ve never met with your representatives, senators or any other legislators, it may seem foreign, daunting or even complicated. The unknown poses a high barrier to entry. I felt a lot of these emotions, too. Until last week, I had never met personally or in a group with my federally elected representatives. This new administration has created a sense of uncertainty for many. In the solar industry, we know that education is the best medicine for uncertainty—for customers, investors and even legislators.

With the encouragement and briefing of SEIA staff, I learned what the meetings would be like.

Armed with fresh data from the latest Solar Jobs Census, my role was to help tell the story of the small, local contractors all over the United States who are creating jobs and economic growth. Due to my work in the industry through my consulting practice, I work with and have gotten to know many great solar contractors in many states all over the country.

So what happened?

SEIA members meet with Secretary Perry. Photo courtesy Department of Energy

First, the whole SEIA board of directors met with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and some of his staff. We talked about jobs, the economic benefits of solar, the need for infrastructure and a need to continue solar research. He was particularly interested in the opportunities provided by storage and had several thoughtful questions about innovations in the solar industry. He also talked about the promise of grid modernization, based on his experience expanding access to wind in Texas when he was the governor. This was Perry’s first public meeting with stakeholders in the renewables industry.

This acknowledgement demonstrates the impression we made on Secretary Perry and is encouraging for our future collaborations and work with the Department of Energy and its solar programming. He even tweeted out positively after our meeting!

Then, we split into smaller groups to meet with other legislators to discuss the latest solar jobs numbers and critical solar activity happening in their states.

In these sessions, we often met with key staffers or aides and/or the senator. The key staffers are subject matter experts who help legislators prepare for their committee work. Groups like SEIA develop strong relationships with these key staffers to ensure the legislator has the data they need to make decisions in key areas like the Investment Tax Credit or other legislation of concern to the solar industry.

Staffers and legislators LOVE when small business owners visit them and tell their stories. Legislators want to hear how constituents are benefitting from the legislative process happening in Washington, D.C. For an entire day, your story is often the star of the show. It’s well worth the time, energy and effort.

Even if you can’t come all the way to D.C., can you meet with your legislators when they are home for recess? Or can you meet with your state senators or other local representatives to tell your story and create more visibility? Your trade association is here to help you prepare. It’s not as daunting or scary as it seems. You won’t be quizzed on dockets and details you don’t know about, so don’t be afraid.

What’s standing in your way of becoming more involved? Time? Uncertainty? Don’t think it will be effective? Tell us below in the comments.

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