Solar advocacy groups and trade organizations spend most of their days working to advance pro-solar policy and public opinion. But it’s becoming increasingly important for installers to independently advocate for the industry too. One relatively quick and easy way to do so is by writing and submitting opinion editorials (op-eds) for publication.
“Frequently, it’s better for the installer in that community to get [op-eds] up and published rather than some national trade group, because that installer might employ people in that community, might contribute to the tax base, might help fuel that community’s economy,” said Dan Whitten, VP of communications for SEIA. “It always helps to have a job creator writing op-eds in the community where those papers are published.”
Zadie Oleksiw, communications director for Vote Solar, said op-eds are crucial tools to help raise awareness or urgency about issues.
“They’re especially useful if it’s an issue that is otherwise going unnoticed or underreported, but it’s also helpful to keep up the drumbeat about a topic that is getting airtime,” Oleksiw said.
Op-eds allow writers to control the framing and messaging of an issue. Oleksiw said she wrote one in response to an anti-solar op-ed where she framed solar as extraordinarily beneficial rather than taking on the other writers’ criticisms point-by-point.
Solar installers have an especially informed voice for writing about the local benefits of a healthy solar industry.
“Installers and others in the solar workforce represent a bright spot in the overall economy—fast-growing, inherently local and all across the country—that resonates both with the public and with lawmakers,” she said. “They can be particularly effective messengers about policy because they can point to the impact that it will have on their job.”
Have a hook
Oleksiw recommends solar installers write about something that directly impacts them or their company. They should state if there is a problem this op-ed will try to solve.
“Installers are in a unique position because they’re out in the field every day talking to real humans about why they should go solar and installing their system,” Oleksiw said. “That makes them experts as they get confronted with a lot of the same challenges and questions every day—all of which lends itself to an op-ed.”
She said, as one example, she could envision an op-ed called, “I’m a solar installer and these are the 10 questions I help answer every day.”
Whitten also stressed the importance of identifying a tension point to build a story around. For example, if the state is considering whether to keep net energy metering in place, an installer’s op-ed can educate the public about what it is and why residents and/or policymakers should support it.
“If you can get the right recipe for getting it published, it really can serve to change people’s attitudes, behaviors, points of view. Sometimes it can be used to encourage people to go solar and sometimes it can be used to encourage policymakers to promote pro-solar policies,” Whitten said.
Solar installers don’t have to try to land an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, either—small, local newspapers or other media outlets can be viable platforms to get a message across.
Whitten said community papers are great platforms for small or mid-sized solar installers to contribute pro-solar articles. Not only do residents read those publications, members of Congress do too.
“If you want to send your message to a specific lawmaker, you’d probably want to publish with a media outlet that reaches her district,” Oleksiw said.
For more national, congressional solar issues, Whitten suggests submitting an op-ed to The Hill or another national policy publication. For state solar policy pieces, look to newspapers based in state capitals.
“It really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, who your audience is and what your best chance is of meeting that audience,” Whitten said.
Write the piece
When it comes down to the details of writing an op-ed, try to keep it simple. Whitten said op-ed writers should craft a story that their grandmother or uncle could understand.
“You may be passionate about an issue, you may be steeped in the policy issues, but you’ve got to write for the common reader, for the everyday reader,” Whitten said.
Oleksiw said the best op-eds are concise and keep the reader engaged. She said it’s important to write in an authentic and personal way and aim to leave readers with a clear sense of the message or call to action.
“While op-eds can be a great free form of marketing, I’d caution against being too promotional—your op-ed will likely be rejected (or ignored) if you use it to simply promote your brand or company,” she said.
After finishing a draft, ask a friend or a trusted solar trade organization to review it. SEIA and Vote Solar help installers write op-eds all the time and know how to make them compelling to editors.
When installers land op-eds in any publication—whether it’s the local newspaper or the New York Times—be sure to share it widely! This can help installers position themselves as thought leaders in a community and show customers that solar is more than a business to them.
Though op-eds can take some time and energy to write and pitch to editors, Whitten said they are a crucial step in advancing the solar industry as a whole.
“It’s so important to get that message out there, and we really as an industry need to do more of it,” Whitten said. “We need to be our own best advocates. It can’t just be the trade association; it has to be the industry and ultimately has to be members of the public who are passionate and speaking out on behalf of solar.”
How to pitch an op-ed
By Zadie Oleksiw at Vote Solar
- Write a clear subject line: “Op-Ed pitch: [YOUR TITLE/BRIEF MESSAGE]”
- Write a short, concise “pitch” email. Example below:
SUBJECT LINE: “Op-ed pitch: Oakland communities need clean air. California’s 100% clean energy bill can help.”
Next week, the Assembly Utilities Committee will be voting on SB100, an ambitious and pragmatic bill to transition California to 100% clean energy by 2045. Moving California away from fossil fuels and to emission-free energy is an important step to reducing the negative impact of fossil fuel pollution on our communities and our children’s’ health.
Below is an op-ed I wrote on the importance of SB100 for Oakland. Given next week’s committee vote, can you let me know by [two days later] if [PAPER] can publish this op-ed? I’ll call tomorrow to follow up. [MAKE SURE TO FOLLOW UP WITH CALL!]
COPY OP-ED INTO THE BODY OF YOUR EMAIL – DO NOT SEND IT AS AN ATTACHMENT
- Follow up! You probably won’t receive an immediate response by email—reporters/editors receive hundreds of emails a day. You will likely need to follow up with a call. If it’s not available online, call the newsroom and ask for a specific person’s direct line/extension.
- Don’t despair. If your op-ed is declined or doesn’t receive a response within a few days (after at least one phone call) move on to another paper.