SEIA President Rhone Resch Challenges Solar Industry to Unite, Fight for “Solar Bill of Rights”

Anaheim, California – Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), today addressed the General Session of Solar Power International 2009 (SPI), the largest business-to-business solar energy conference and expo in North America. Below is the full text of his remarks.
We have come together for this conference for the last six years. This time is different, because this moment is different.
            My message to you today is simple, and it is urgent.
            We stand at a crossroads — a decisive moment. The question is whether we’re going to appreciate the vital importance of the policy environment and get serious about shaping it. For our industry, everything hangs on that choice.
Let me say it more directly. When it comes to engaging in the major policy battles ahead, we face a choice right here, right now. There are two alternatives—and two alone: Go big. Or go home.
            The possibilities of this moment are no surprise—not to us. The American people and our political leaders are appreciating more fully what you have long known: solar is here, solar is ready, and the future we have long worked to build is now.
            Solar stands today in the mainstream of American energy—squarely alongside fossil fuels and nuclear power. According to the Edison Electric Institute, in 2009 solar accounts for 13% of all new utility announcements and filings, and that’s up from 6% last year.
            Regardless of who you ask solar has a bright, clean and exciting future.
            And when was the last time that anyone described the future of the coal industry as exciting? They might try to convince you that it’s “clean,” but it’s certainly not exciting.
The solar industry differs from our competitors not in status but in substance. We are an industry in ascent; they are sectors in decline. Our source is clean and limitless; theirs are toxic and scarce.
We as the solar industry represent the future of clean power, the new economy and a new era of American innovation.
That is the possibility of this moment.
Make no mistake: The challenges ahead of us are taller and tougher than any we have faced before. We cannot rely on the goodwill of policymakers to prevail. We must fight together, and we must fight to win.
            And make no mistake about this either: We know how to win. And our victories of the last year prove it
            You don’t need me to say how difficult the last year of the recession has been. You’re living it. 
What you asked of SEIA was to secure policies that lift up the industry during tough economic times. And, we answered that call. And the results are powerful testimony to what we can accomplish together.
A year ago, after 18 months, 17 votes and nine filibusters, a long-term extension and expansion of the ITC was signed into law, including the removal of the utility exemption. The results for our industry have been tremendous.
Soon afterward, SEIA held a solar summit of industry leaders. Based on that meeting and subsequent emails and phone calls from our members, we developed a list of policy priorities that would help our industry survive the recession and lay the groundwork for future growth.
  • You said we needed to make the ITC refundable. We did it. A new Treasury Grant Program provides a 30 percent rebate on system costs.
  • You said we needed to improve the loan guarantee program. We did it. There’s the new 1705 program to which many of you in this room have applied.
  • You said we needed to remove the tax penalty for subsidized renewable energy financing. We did it. Businesses and individuals can use the full solar tax credit, regardless of any other subsidies. This has cleared the way for Vice President Biden’s announcement last week of the Recovery through Retrofit program that uses PACE financing.
  • You said we needed to improve the tax credit for solar water heating. We did it. The $2,000 cap on the residential SWH investment tax credit is gone—clearing the way for 2 million square feet of collector installations in 2009.
  • You said we needed more solar on federal property. We did it — securing $5.5 billion in appropriations to construct, repair and retrofit federal buildings.
  • You said we needed to increase solar appropriations for the Department of Energy. We did it. There’s $16.8 billion in new money to the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
  • You said we needed more funding for job training. We did it — including $500 million to train the next generation of green collar workers.
  • You said we needed an incentive to encourage solar manufacturing in the U.S. We did it, creating a 30-percent ITC for new facilities.
We accomplished all this and more. We — not simply one organization in Washington, but our entire industry working and speaking and fighting as one. 
All told, we secured no fewer than 19 separate provisions in the stimulus—provisions that we expect to create over 100,000 solar jobs in the next several years. And these funds are steadily making their way from Washington to solar companies. And, the results are beginning to show.
The industry has been hard at work removing bottlenecks that have historically blocked progress. In the case of solar water heating, that bottleneck was SRCC certification. So far this year SRCC has added 6 new labs and certified 46 new collectors and 154 systems. 
To be sure, growth this year will not be as explosive as it has been in recent years. But the important point is that our industry will not decline — and that’s a substantial achievement only possible because we worked together to create a policy environment where solar thrives.
And SEIA is working to help the industry prosper in other ways by cutting your costs and protecting your business. Today we are proud to announce a new insurance program with Kessler tailored to the unique needs of solar companies of all sizes. Drop by our either of our booths to learn more.
I hope you share our pride in all we have accomplished together. But there is one thing we cannot afford to be: satisfied or complacent. 
These successes are lifting our industry during a year when economic forces were pressing us down. But our work is not finished, and we aspire to win far more than the policy battles of a single year. The fights ahead will surpass any we have seen so far—and so will the victories, if we work together. 
The policy environment we’ll have to work in will shape our future just as much as the choices we make in technology, manufacturing, financing or any other field.
            All we seek is the freedom to compete, and all consumers want is the freedom to choose their energy source. Instead, the full promise of solar power is being restrained by the tyranny of policies that protect our competitors, subsidize wealthy polluters and disadvantage green entrepreneurs.
            And Americans know better than anyone else in the world that there’s only one way to overcome tyranny—by declaring our rights and fighting for them with a united and determined voice. 
That is why, today, SEIA is asking you to enlist in the fight to secure a policy environment that allows solar to compete and empowers consumers to choose.
So let’s make today solar’s Fourth of July —the day we declare our independence from policies that prevent greater use of solar energy which Americans so urgently need. 
Today, we’re declaring a Solar Bill of Rights.
And here’s our First Amendment:
First, Americans have the right to put solar on their homes or businesses. Today’s systems beautify and add value to communities and homes, and yet antiquated rules prevent many homes and businesses from going solar. From restrictive covenants to onerous connection, permitting and inspection fees these rules create fundamental barriers to solar. Utilities should not be allowed to restrict green power with red tape.
Number 2, Americans have the right to connect their solar system to the grid with uniform national standards. This is as simple as creating a standard jack for telephones. Can you imagine buying a phone in Nevada and bringing it home to California and finding out it doesn’t fit into the wall jack? Other industries don’t stand for this and neither should we.
Next, Consumers have the right to Net Meter and be compensated at the very least with full retail electricity rates. Call this solar’s eminent domain—utilities use the power we make, and we expect to be compensated at its actual value. This is not just the cost, but the true value of solar including our security benefits, peak power benefits and environmental benefits – as well as the true price for carbon.
And this right, for me and my family, is personal.
This image you are seeing on the screen is a picture of my system at home that net meters. When I originally installed the system, I was required to pay 2.5 cents/kWh for any electricity that I sent to the grid. Thankfully the DC PSC reversed that rule and we now have full retail net metering. This has encouraged us to expand our system.
In an effort to generate 100% of our electricity from the sun, I recently upgraded my system with more panels and SolarMagic, to boost the efficiency of the system.
And with respect to net metering?   We have an app for that.
And our industry deserves fair treatment too. 
Number 4, we have the right to a fair competitive environment. It’s the most basic right there is—equality under the law. Today, solar has anything but. And that’s not just an opinion, that’s a fact.
From 2002 to 2008, federal subsidies for fossil fuels were $72 billion while solar received less than $1 billion. This is completely disconnected with the desires of the American people. 
Recent independent polling shows that 92% of the public supports greater use of solar. And yet taxpayers are forced to subsidize companies like ExxonMobil, companies that are the richest in the history of the world. 
It’s that simple—and that wrong.
            Subsidies aren’t the only issue of fairness, which leads me to number 5.
We also have the right to equal access to public lands. Oil and natural gas companies are operating on 45 million acres of public lands. Today, solar companies have access to ZERO. America has the best solar resources in the world and we can’t harness the full potential of the sun without accessing our sun-baked lands of the West.
            Of course, there’s little point in collecting energy unless there’s a means of distributing it. 
That’s why our 6th Amendment is that we have the right to interconnect and build new transmission lines. Here, too, we seek no more than what other industries already have. The next great build out of our transmission lines must connect the vast solar resources in the southwest to the population centers across the United States.
            Number 7, Americans must have the right to buy solar electricity from our utilities. Consumers have no choice but to buy power from utilities. Although recently some utilities have started to listen to the 92 percent of Americans who want them to prioritize a kilowatt of power drawn from the sun over any other energy source. We have a long way to go. Therefore, for any renewable portfolio standard to be effective, at either the federal or state level, it must contain a large carve out for all solar energy technologies.
Finally, Number 8. Consumers have the right, and should expect, the highest ethical treatment from the solar industry. From minimizing our impact on the environment to providing systems that work better than advertized to ensuring that we accurately communicate how incentives work for consumers, our industry must operate at a higher ethical standard than any other. We will not stand for those who cheat, lie and take advantage of the good name of solar energy.
            We declare these rights not on behalf of our companies, but on behalf of our customers and our country. We seek no more than the freedom to compete on equal terms and no more than the liberty for consumers to choose the energy source they think best. 
            These rights, like those on which country was founded, are a simple matter of common-sense. In fact, you might even call them “self-evident.”
            But that doesn’t mean they’re self-evident in the halls of power, especially when our opponents are pumping as much haze into the energy debate as they are into the environment.
They are spending millions of dollars on lobbying, PR and advertising, and much of it is financing a deliberate effort to discredit our industry. In advertising alone, the coal industry will spend $50 million and the oil and gas industries will spend over $100 million on advertising this year.
Collectively, this effort has put a target on solar’s back. 
            And guess how much the solar industry is spending on advertising to clear the air: Zero.
            This isn’t a battle we can win without ammunition. We can’t sustain the hits we’re taking without armor. Yes, we have goodwill. And there’s no question we have superior technology. But at the end of the day in Washington, good intentions won’t stand a chance against millions of dollars and intense political pressure. We have relied on goodwill long enough and if that’s the only arrow in our quiver, we will lose.
            Nor can we prevail in the absolutely crucial policy battles that are raging right now. Congress is currently working on a Clean Energy and Climate Bill. Here’s just a small sampling of what’s at stake.
  • The creation of a national renewable electricity standard. Although currently not perfect in design or size, we are pushing for a 25 percent RES by 2025 and standards that guarantee the growth of solar.
  • The creation a national cap and trade program that allocates 10 percent of all carbon credits to the states to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Literally tens of billions of dollars of initial funding for our industry are at stake as well as a long-term price signal on carbon that will benefit all solar technologies.
  • With respect to transmission, there are numerous measures to support the construction of new transmission, including expanded siting authority for FERC, new regional planning, and innovative regional cost allocation.
  • Also included is a long-term PPA authority for the federal government, allowing the country’s largest energy consumer to benefit from the economic efficiencies of the solar PPA.
  • The bill also creates the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (or clean energy bank) to provide a suite of financing options to support renewable energy projects.
  • And the list goes on and on. I encourage you to go to SEIA’s website for more information.
Passage of this bill will be a substantial fight. How our country proceeds on climate change will permanently shape the market for solar. And those pieces of legislation are only the beginning. Ultimately, what we must secure are our fundamental rights.
            Every plank of the Solar Bill of Rights is absolutely essential to the future of solar power in America. Every plank is going to face determined opposition. And every advance for our industry in the policy arena demands total, sustained and completely committed engagement from everyone in this room.
            So if you believe in this Bill of Rights—if you want to enlist in the fight for equality and liberty in the energy market—if you agree that policy is every bit as important to the solar industry’s future as any other business investment, then SEIA needs your help.
I’m asking you today to make a specific commitment to SEIA—a commitment of time and resources—to put this Bill of Rights into action. I need each of you to take at least the following steps:
·         First, we need you to join national SEIA. We need you to be part of the team. In years past I have encouraged you to join state SEIAs. This year I am asking you to join national SEIA as well. There’s never been a better time to advance clean energy policy in Washington than today, and we need your voice to be part of national SEIA. And when we send out our action alerts, we need you to take action, to become a voice in the debate, to be another soldier fighting for our liberty.
  • Second, we need you to engage your policymakers. Invite your elected officials, including your governor and Members of Congress to visit your plant or business. When policymakers think of solar, I don’t want them thinking of a lobbyist. I want them thinking of you—of your company and how you are creating jobs in their districts.
We also need to support those that support us. So if you have a House member or Senator who supports solar, please attend one of their fundraisers to show your support.
  • While you are at it, if you are a SEIA member, I want you to contribute to the SEIA PAC. In 2008 the oil industry contributed $22 million to political candidates, the utility industry $21 million. The solar industry:    $138,000. We cannot compete with the entrenched energy interests unless we step up our game.
Plain and simply, SEIA members have to support those who support us. In fact tomorrow there is a SEIA PAC fundraiser for members at 5:30 at the Anaheim Convention Center 3rd Floor Terrace. Stop by and become part of Team Solar. 
And just to drive home this point – I would like all of SEIA’s staff to stand up – every one of SEIA’s employees has made a financial contribution to the SEIA PAC. Not only are they giving up their nights and weekends to advance solar energy and your business, but they are giving up a portion of their paychecks too. Let’s give them a round of applause for their leadership.
Everyone employed by the solar industry should be making a contribution to the PAC, every year.
  • Finally, we need you to get the word out. We need you to write at least one opinion piece for your local media. We need to tell the American people what our industry already knows: Solar is ready, here and now, to make a major contribution to America’s energy needs—but we need a fair policy environment to do it. SEIA will help you write and submit these pieces, but we need you to take the first step forward.
In every one of those efforts, take the Solar Bill of Rights with you. It’s posted on SEIA’s website, and we’re emailing it to you right now. Read it, distribute it, and fight for it. We need to get ahead of every one of those issues rather than simply fight each battle as it comes.
As we undertake this effort, please remember this too: Under this roof we represent many interests and engage in many debates. Outside these walls, though, it’s imperative that the solar industry speak as one – including all technologies. We’ve already seen at the state level what happens when we divide ourselves: namely, nothing. 
There is no difference in this room nearly as big as what we stand to lose if we try to drag policymakers into a solar-vs.-solar debate. Our debate—and one in which victory will benefit us all—is between solar and less viable and less sustainable alternatives. There is ample room for debate among us, but this Bill of Rights should unite us all.
And in the same way that this Bill of Rights unites us, so will the newly formed Solar Foundation, which will serve as the center for public education and information to tackle market barriers here in the United States.
Let me close on this note: In every one of those efforts, to secure every one of these rights, we need time—absolutely. We need resources—no question.
But what we need above all else, from each of you, is passion and patriotism—the kind of energy patriotism that’s willing to fight for what’s right—for us, for our customers and, let there be no question about it, for our country. Nothing less is at stake.
Solar stands at a crossroads today, a moment of decision that will profoundly shape the history of our industry and, with it, the history of our world. And like any crossroads, this one demands a choice.
We can accept the tyranny of a century of policies that protects our competitors, or we can fight for a new century of policies that secure our rights. 
We can decide our rights are worth fighting for or we can sit still and hope for the best.
            That’s the choice. And that’s the bottom line: Fight, or surrender. Go big, or go home. 
And for an industry whose story is American to the core—built from an idea and carried on the shoulders of entrepreneurs—that’s no choice at all. We choose to fight. We choose to demand our rights in the only way we can attain them: together. 
And together, we will prevail. 
Thank you very much.
Background Resources:
Solar Bill of Rights -
Powerpoint Slides of Resch's Speech - 

About SEIA:
Established in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association is the national trade association of solar energy industry. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to make solar a mainstream and significant energy source by expanding markets, removing market barriers, strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy.  Learn more at  
SEIA President & CEO Rhone Resch is on Twitter: