Congress, Don’t Send the U.S. Solar Industry on an Extended Vacation
by Rhone Resch
President & CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association
It’s that time of year when many Americans are just returning from a summer vacation. During their travels, most of those vacationers probably passed by some of the many solar projects, large and small, being installed across the country. However, they probably didn’t know that while they were on holiday, smart policies were at work speeding up deployment of solar projects. From PV farms to solar water heating systems, solar is having a record growth year and is creating stable, well-paying American jobs.
One of the main drivers of solar’s robust growth has been the Treasury Grant Program (TGP), an initiative created in the Recovery Act which provides a cash grant in lieu of the 30 percent solar investment tax credit for companies that lack access to private tax equity financing due to the poor economy. Research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found the TGP “has provided significant economic value” and more than 40 states have solar projects that were stimulated by the TGP.
Vacationers who hit the beaches of Southeast Florida were sunbathing near the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a 25-megawatt solar power plant that is the largest photovoltaic plant in the country. It provides clean, safe, reliable electricity to about 3,000 homes and created around 400 construction jobs. Almost 900 other solar projects nationwide have been built because of the TGP. Tourists sending postcards from the National Cherry Festival in Michigan may have noticed a revival in America’s manufacturing sector. The Upper Midwest is one of the regions hardest hit by the recession. In Michigan, where unemployment hovers around 10 percent, the TGP has supported thousands of jobs in the manufacturing plants producing solar products. American-made solar components from these plants will be sold across the U.S. and exported around the world.
Elvis fans making the pilgrimage to Graceland may have been all shook up to see how the TGP is creating jobs for local solar installers, contractors and distributors. Memphis, Tennessee-based Unistar-Sparco was able to cut their energy costs by one-third by going solar with the help of the TGP.
While we were on vacation, the TGP was hard at work and there’s more that it can do. According to independent research, extending the TGP by two years would help the solar industry create more than 65,000 American jobs over the next five years. Many of these jobs are in the trades hardest hit by the recession, like manufacturing, construction, plumbing, and electrical contracting. The study also found the TGP would add 5,100 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power more than 1 million homes.
Unfortunately, this successful stimulus program is headed for a permanent vacation at the end of the year if Congress and the President don’t extend it.
Inaction on the TGP is bad enough, but Congress also raided $3.5 billion from another promising stimulus programs for creating clean energy jobs: the Department of Energy’s (DOE) renewable energy loan guarantee program. The Loan Guarantee Program offers a federally guaranteed loan to solar developers and manufacturers.
This troubling decision will harm our economy and our climate by taking away a potential $35 billion in financing authority for renewable energy investments.
It is imperative that this mistake be fixed.
There are currently more than 23 gigawatts of utility-scale solar power projects in the development pipeline. That’s enough to power more than 4.6 million homes and create tens of thousands of jobs. These projects, and the jobs they will create around the country, will remain in a state of uncertainty – and in some cases risk being scrapped – with the TGP and Loan Guarantee Program in limbo. Additionally, Congress can resurrect our nation’s manufacturing sector by extending the current investment tax credit it provides to solar projects to cover solar manufacturing as well. This will help keep solar manufacturing in the U.S.
The TGP, Loan Guarantee Program and strong incentives for solar manufacturing are a critical trifecta for enabling solar to compete with heavily subsidized fossil fuels. These programs provide the specific guarantees investors look for when deciding to finance energy projects.
Like the rest of us returning to the office, Members of Congress are finishing vacations and visits back to their hometowns to return to Washington. We hope they’ll consider the many Americans who weren’t able to travel this year because of the economy or couldn’t vacation at all because they don’t have a job. We’re sure many of them would love a good job in the solar industry. But if Congress and the President don’t act quickly to extend the TGP, replenish the Loan Guarantee Program and expand solar manufacturing incentives, the U.S. solar industry may go on an extended vacation and we will lose more ground to nations like China and Germany who are pouring investment and policy support into the new cleantech economy. – Source Huffington Post
Solar Bill of Rights
Solar Rights Manifesto
Although equipment and direct labor costs have declined as solar systems become simpler and safer, the sad truth is that the paperwork and bureaucracy have become even more complicated. Our greatest savings as an industry will be to attack these bureaucratic costs at their source and simply eliminate them.
Please join with your fellow solar enthusiasts and stand up for these five Solar Rights.
Solar Right #1: Solar power shall be installed to provide the lowest cost for ratepayers on a whole, taking into account all applicable costs and externalities.
Solar Right #2: There shall be no restrictions on solar installations for any reason other than pre-existing health and safety concerns.
Solar Right #3: There shall not be any added paperwork for connecting a solar power source as long as it is comparably sized to the building’s existing electrical service. If there is no “interconnection” paperwork for a 3 ton air conditioner, there should be no paperwork for a 3 kw solar power system.
Solar Right #4: There shall not be any demand charges, standby fees or extra expenses for net metering. Net metering customers put power into the grid when the electricity is most needed.
Solar Right #5: There shall not be a separate inspection for building departments, fire departments, utilities and rebate administrators. One – and only one — jurisdictional inspection shall be required for a solar installation.
SOLAR BILL OF RIGHTS
To secure a policy environment that allows solar energy to compete and empowers consumers to choose, Rhone Resch declared today, October 27, 2009, in the City of Anaheim, California, a Solar Bill of Rights:
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.
1. Americans have the right to put solar on their homes or businesses. Restrictive covenants, onerous connection rules, and excessive permitting and inspections fees prevent too many American homes and businesses from going solar.
2. Americans have the right to connect their solar energy system to the grid with uniform national standards. This should be as simple as connecting a telephone or appliance. No matter where they live, consumers should expect a single standard for connecting their system to the electric grid.
3. Americans have the right to Net Meter and be compensated at the very least with full retail electricity rates. When customers generate excess solar power utilities should pay them consumer at least the retail value of that power.
4. The solar industry has the right to a fair competitive environment. The highly profitable fossil fuel industries have received tens of billions of dollars for decades. The solar energy expects a fair playing field, especially since the American public overwhelmingly supports the development and use of solar.
5. The solar industry has the right to equal access to public lands. America has the best solar resources in the world, yet solar companies have zero access to public lands compared to the 45 million acres used by oil and natural gas companies.
6. The solar industry has the right to interconnect and build new transmission lines. When America updates its electric grid, it must connect the vast solar resources in the Southwest to population centers across the nation.
7. Americans have the right to buy solar electricity from their utility. Consumers have no choice to buy clean, reliable solar energy from their utilities instead of the dirty fossil fuels of the past.
8. Americans have the right, and should expect, the highest ethical treatment from the solar industry. Consumers should expect the solar energy industry to minimize its environmental impact, provide systems that work better than advertised, and communicate incentives clearly and accurately.
Solar Energy Companies Step Into the Branding Spotlight
By UCILIA WANG
A fake oil tycoon. The biggest sports event in the world. A Formula One racing team. What do they have in common? They’re all part of branding initiatives by solar panel makers seeking to make their names in a fast-growing industry.
The biggest news that heralded the first day of Intersolar North America, a solar-energy trade show and conference in San Francisco July 11-15 that drew more than 20,000 attendees, was a video of Larry Hagman, who played a Texas oilman in the old nighttime soap, Dallas. German solar panel maker SolarWorld managed to lure national media and local bloggers to a press event with the promise that a “former oil tycoon will give a keynote address calling for radical change within the U.S. energy market.”
Some reporters thought SolarWorld would produce someone who made a fortune in black gold. In real life. But Hagman showed up instead in the video, which contained the slogan “shine, baby, shine,” a solar counterpoint to Sarah Palin’s “drill, baby, drill.”
In the Company of Giants
The advertising spot was the latest example by solar panel manufacturers trying to raise their profiles in a market that’s a lot more crowded than just a few years back. Intersolar says this year’s show featured 580 exhibitors compared with 444 last year. These branding efforts target not only consumers but also solar manufacturers’ customers — distributors, project developers and utilities.
Solar companies are also turning to sports events, long popular with tech companies, to get their names out. Samsung raised its profile considerably after it became a sponsor of the 1998 Summer Olympics. Prior to those games, the Korean consumer electronics maker hardly registered with consumers outside of South Korea.
Inside the exhibition hall at Intersolar, Yingli Green Energy’s booth boasted of its status as an official sponsor of the just-completed 2010 World Cup (pictured). The Chinese solar panel maker’s name and logo appeared alongside McDonald’s, Budweiser and other giant global corporate sponsors during the games. Yingli executives were quick to point out that Yingli was the first greentech and Chinese company to be an official World Cup sponsor.
“We are growing fast, and it’s important for us to have a global stage to promote our brand,” says Jason Liu, vice president of Yingli. The company picked the World Cup because it attracts more viewers than any other sporting event, particularly in Europe, which is the largest solar market, says Helena Kimball, the head of marketing and communications for its American operations.
From Soccer to Football (American Style)
The World Cup organizer charged Yingli less for the sponsorship because it was eager to have a renewable energy company in the lineup, Liu says, who declines to disclose the amount. Some estimates have pegged the amound at $30 million to $50 million, but Kimball says none of the guesses are correct.
The branding campaign has gotten lots of press coverage and made Yingli’s name a top search term on Google and Baidu, a Chinese search engine, during the World Cup, Liu says. He adds the he already has heard feedback from the company’s customers who say “they are proud to be partners of a World Cup sponsor.”
Yingli will be launching a branding campaign with the New York Jets football team, Kimball says. The company plans to install solar panels at the Jets’ training facility in New Jersey, and its name and logo will show up in digital billboards at the new stadium the Jets will share with the New York Giants in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
Across from Yingli’s booth at Intersolar stood Trina Solar’s, which played up its sponsorship with the Renault Formula One team by hiring women who milled about the booth in skin-tight outfits with Trina’s and Renault’s names blazoned on the back of their uniforms.
Trina, another Chinese solar panel maker, also threw a party during Intersolar to celebrate Bastille Day, which commemorates the French Revolution in the late 1700s.
Betting on U.S. Growth
Some solar companies have created more localized branding campaigns. Canadian Solar, for example, targeted the U.S. market with its sponsorship of the San Jose Sharks hockey team during the National Hockey League playoffs earlier this year. The solar company’s name appeared on signs at each Sharks’ game, and it was mentioned by radio and TV announcers covering the playoffs.
Canadian Solar, which makes solar panels in China, also plans to do something similar with the San Francisco Giants baseball team, says Mike Miskovsky, general manager of Canadian Solar’s U.S. division. “It’s an effective way for us to increase brand awareness in the U.S.,” he says.
It opened a U.S. operation last year, and like many Chinese and European solar manufacturers, it’s betting that the U.S. could eventually become the largest solar energy market, a title Germany now holds.
“Pick the Ones That Don’t Suck”
Of course, it remains to be seen whether these branding campaigns pay dividends for the manufacturers. Consumers currently don’t ask for solar panels made by a particular manufacturers, notes Peter Rive, co-founder and chief operating officer of SolarCity, an installer in California. They rely on their contractors’ recommendations instead. “The panel choice is more like, ‘Don’t pick the ones that suck,’” says Rive. “It’s not like, ‘Pick the ones that I’ve heard of.’”
Although consumers don’t specify brands, they do recognize the names of some solar panel makers who also happen to be consumer-electronics giants, such as Sharp, Sanyo and Samsung, says Matt Ziskin, a senior director of marketing at SunWize, a California-based distributor and installer of solar panels. If SolarWorld, Yingli, Trina, Canadian Solar and others succeed in their branding strategies, they could one day be as well-known as those household names.
PG&E Corporation and SunRun Create $100 Million Home Solar Financing Fund
Agreement creates the largest residential solar fund to date.
San Francisco, California – June 21, 2010 -
Pacific Energy Capital II, LLC, a non-utility subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), and SunRun Inc., the nation’s leading provider of home solar financing, today announced a $100 million tax equity project financing agreement to fund SunRun’s installation of more than 3,500 new home solar installations across the nation. The investment, principally funded by PG&E Corporation shareholders through Pacific Energy Capital, creates the largest residential solar financing vehicle established to date. Under the agreement, Pacific Energy Capital will provide financing for the rooftop energy systems and both parties will receive payments from SunRun customers. SunRun will manage the projects.
SunRun offers home solar power without high upfront costs through power purchase agreements (PPAs) and solar leases. Through SunRun’s popular solar plans, homeowners pay as little as $0 upfront to get solar panels installed, followed by a low, monthly payment to have solar energy at home. SunRun provides complete solar maintenance, monitoring, repairs, insurance and money-back performance guarantee for all its customers, making it simple and affordable for homeowners to switch their home to clean solar electricity.
“As a company in a region where distributed solar is becoming increasingly important, we are focused on continuing to take advantage of smart, strategic opportunities that enable us to acquire an in-depth understanding of this market and these technologies,” said Brian Steel, Senior Director of Corporate Strategy and Development at PG&E Corporation. “Our investment with SunRun reflects this ongoing effort. Additionally, it allows us to continue supporting the advance of renewable energy, which is a priority for our company, utility customers and policymakers.”
The solar systems funded under the agreement are expected to be installed in 2010 and 2011 in at least five states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. SunRun currently serves more than 4,000 customers in these five states, and is growing 500% year-over-year. SunRun now partners with 15 leading solar integrators that are located across the country and that collectively employ more than 2,500 solar workers.
“PG&E Corporation is a proven leader developing and embracing renewable energy” said Edward Fenster, SunRun’s CEO. “We are very excited to partner with PG&E Corporation on this agreement which will make solar affordable to more homeowners across the nation.”