Clean Power Plan

When President Obama unveiled his ambitious Clean Power Plan (CPP) in August, my first reaction was: “It’s about time.” And, in the words of President Josiah Edward Bartlet (“The West Wing”), my second thought was: “What’s next?”

After all, as wonderful as President Obama’s plan is, the interim rules don’t go into effect until 2022 and the final rules don’t go into effect until 2030. That’s six years after the end of the investment tax credit (ITC) until the interim rules take place and 14 until the final rules are instituted.

So what are we supposed to do until then? What follows are five action steps the solar industry must take in the next six years to maximize the impact of the CPP.

1. Keep bringing prices down.

The spread of solar in the past five years hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Outside forces have helped solar’s widespread adoption by bringing down installation costs to levels that opened the market to millions of consumers that hadn’t even thought about installing solar on their roofs before.

Now, thanks to innovative financing options and lower component prices – panels are at an all-time low, and other components are coming down now, too – solar is within reach of a majority of Americans. Let’s keep innovating and finding new ways to keep those prices coming down so the vision of 140 GW of solar in the United States doesn’t remain an unattainable pipe dream.

2. Lobby the U.S. Congress to either greatly increase government subsidies to solar or eliminate them for the oil and gas companies.

The oil and gas industries have enjoyed subsidies since 1913. That’s 102 years. These are subsidies for an industry that has a stranglehold on energy production in this country and is making billions of dollars in profits every year.

In contrast, the solar industry has had the ITC – the driving force behind much of the industry’s growth – only since 2006. Hmm … 102 years versus nine years. Yeah, that’s fair. Congress needs to support us more or support them less. All we want is a fair fight.

3. Get the ITC extended.

As I write this article, the ITC is 30 percent, but it is scheduled to drop to 10 percent for utility-scale and commercial projects – and will disappear completely for residential projects in 16 months.

If you have any interest in seeing the solar industry thrive, then your passion should be focused on getting an ITC extension.  This is not a theoretical fight or a “when I get to it” task. This should be at the top of your to-do list every day. It must become part of your job. Don’t leave it to others – this fight is in your hands.

4. Stand up and be counted by supporting the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national association that is fighting tooth and nail to save solar jobs.

What boggles my mind is how little support SEIA gets from installation companies in the industry. Do you realize its political action committee has $80,000 in its coffers? The oil and gas industry has multiple millions in theirs. That’s not David versus Goliath; it’s an amoeba versus Goliath. If this lack of support continues, there’s no way we can win the critical legislative battles ahead.

But here’s a secret: If every solar employee at the industry’s 7,000 companies contributed $150 in 2015-2016, that $80,000 suddenly becomes $54 million. Now that’s more of a fair fight, and with the skills and resources at SEIA’s disposal, it’s a fight we could win.

Some experts are predicting losses of 100,000 of the current 174,000 solar jobs in this country if the ITC expires as planned. Look at that $150 contribution as unemployment insurance. Let’s give our association the chance it deserves.

5. Rally the 90 percent of the American public that loves solar to lobby their representatives on our behalf.

Solar has a 90 percent approval rating among the general public because many want to put panels on their own homes at some point in the future. What they don’t understand is that if the ITC goes away, so does the currently generous support for residential solar installations that would allow them to do it. The window for installing residential solar is rapidly closing – so it is in consumers’ best interests to join the ITC battle.

Installers must talk with their customers and get the word out. Only a groundswell of support from inside and outside the industry will make it happen.

I believe President Obama’s CPP is a long overdue shot at getting the national energy policy we’ve needed for years. But we can’t wait six years for it to be the driving force for us. Our time is now. Let’s seize it.

Tony Clifford is CEO of Standard Solar.

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