Industry observers agree that the loss or reduction of the ITC at the end of 2016, and the resulting drop-off in projects, will be disastrous for many solar companies, particularly small businesses. Tuesday at Solar Power International, experts gathered to offer ideas about how solar installers can help extend the ITC. Below is some of the advice they offered.
Realize the threat
Tony Clifford, CEO, Standard Solar
Clifford wondered if solar installation companies were “whistling passed by the graveyard” on the ITC issue. He said that many people believe the solar industry will suffer a “hangover” following the ITC’s end, but he said the damage done will be more than a two- or three-quarter slump.
He indicated people may be dismissing warnings from Rhone Resch, the CEO and president of SEIA, about the potential loss of 100,000 solar jobs—a total representing more than half the industry. He offered analysis from entities outside the solar industry to support Resch’s dire projections.
He said the Energy Information Administration predicts the loss of the ITC will lead to a total elimination of utility-scale projects and a 94% reduction in distributed generation projects. He cited a Stanford University report that showed component cost reductions will not be sufficient enough to balance the loss of the ITC and support project development.
Clifford then turned attention to the financial threat. In Washington, D.C., the political reality is money very often translates to power. “Solar is outgunned by other energy industries,” Clifford said. SolarPAC, the SEIA Political Action Committee, has $80,000 in its war chest, which divides to $0.46 per solar worker. Traditional energy industries and political groups aligned with them, meanwhile, have tens of millions of dollars.
“We need a serious effort to raise money and not just from the major solar companies,” Clifford said. “A lot of people in the solar industry have been free riding for a long time, and I think if they keep free riding, they’re going to ride themselves into oblivion.”
It’s not all about Washington—it is all about your job
Scott Hennessey, Director of Policy and Markets and Regulatory Counsel, SolarCity
Hennessey began by saying SolarCity is comprised of more than 13,000 employees and operates in 80 congressional districts. But besides the scale of the solar installer, SolarCity is just like any other business. He said that many solar professionals may feel their business should be evaluated on its merits—such as solar’s regard for the environment—but solar “is just like any other industry.”
“We have to work hard,” Hennessey said, adding that the work needs to extend beyond the PR or communications department, involving the whole staff. “You have a policy dependent company, so part of your job is to participate in the policy process.”
Hennessey said no one can dislike solar in concept, but for lobbying to work, legislators must see that solar is a real thing, affecting real people and real businesses. Warehouse tours work well, he said.
“(Solar) is like puppies and kittens, but do they get it? Do they know what a bustling warehouse looks like? To see all the panels coming in on trucks, and to see the crews rolling out in the morning? That makes it real,” he said.
He said SolarCity led Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, onto a roof to see a solar installation first-hand, and the company welcomed Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, to a ribbon cutting for a solar installation at a school. These experiences are ones leaders take back to Washington, Hennessey said, and solar installation companies everywhere should invite representatives of their districts to similar events.
Christopher Mansour, VP of Federal Affairs, SEIA
“It’s absolutely crucial we have solar companies talking to members of congress,” Mansour said. “A lot of Congressional members have no idea they have a solar industry in their district.”
Mansour explained SEIA has made contacting a congressional representative and explaining the value of solar easy. The trade associate’s Advocacy Toolkit is a one-stop resource for conveying the importance of solar to elected officials.
For solar companies in the Midwest, SEIA will host the Midwest Federal Lobby Day(s) on October 20 and 21, 2015. Participants will meet with their specific representatives and talk to them about the issues shaping the solar industry, their businesses and their communities.
Mansour said the necessity to stay engaged is required for success. “This won’t happen overnight,” he said.
Find advocates and connect them
Kevin Gresham, VP of External Affairs, E.ON North America
E.On, one of the world’s largest owners of renewable power projects, has built an aggressive government relations campaign to advocate for its interests. Gresham said the company reached out to its employees and gave them the resources necessary to meet with representatives in their district. The company reached out to its customers, too. Other speakers commented that even potential customers are a source of support, for their ability to purchase a solar array some time in the future could be limited by scaled back federal support.
Then, in a year-end conversation about how the company could improve, it dawned on executives at E.On that the ITC is important up the supply chain, too. If the ITC goes away, it will affect the bottom lines of component manufacturers. In response, the company created the Supply Chain Summit, where it explained to suppliers why it is important for them to advocate for the policy drivers of the industry. Gresham said people don’t need to talk about policy with legislators, but more simply how the industry affects their lives and businesses.
“If our business suffers, their business suffers,” Gresham said.
Realize the urgency
Kelly Knutsen, Policy Advisor, CALSEIA
To some solar installers, December 31, 2016, feels imminent, Knutsen said. Complex projects can takes many months to finalize and plan, and the end of 2016 might as well be tomorrow for some large developers. For legislators, however, the end of next year seems like an eternity from now.
Knutsen said legislators are thinking something along these lines: “That’s next year after Christmas, after the elections, and I’m good.”
That’s a disturbing take on the calendar if you’re in the solar industry, and it’s one solar installation companies should understand if they’ll be effective in the coming months to secure support for the industry.