Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. The solar industry held its annual solar power international conference in Las Vegas this week. It comes after a contentious back-and-forth between utility-scale and rooftop solar advocates, and here with all the details on that back-and-forth is EnergyWire's Rod Kuckro. Rod, thanks for coming on the show.
Rod Kuckro: You're welcome, Monica. Nice to be here.
Monica Trauzzi: So it's a dramatic split between rooftop and utility-scale solar advocates. Take us back to when this rift began and sort of how things progressed so quickly.
Rod Kuckro: Well, the rift has been simmering for years, but it really blew into the open Sept. 5 when two well-known solar entrepreneurs, Jigar Shah, who was the founder of SunEdison and now operates a clean energy financing company, and Barry Cinnamon, who's a longtime entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, wrote an open letter to the industry. They did it deliberately before this trade show to sort of expose the fact that, in their eyes, distributed generation companies, those that do rooftop solar, are getting the short end from the board of directors of the Solar Energy Industries Association. It was a shot across the bow, essentially.
Monica Trauzzi: Yeah, so how is the industry reacting? I mean, this was an unusual move by Jigar Shah.
Rod Kuckro: It was very unusual because he's actually a fairly private person and tends to do things behind the scenes. But as one person said, he thinks that he wanted to go public with this to sort of force the issue at a time now when SEIA, the trade group, is without a CEO. They have an interim CEO. Rhone Resch resigned and left a few months ago. And at a time when the board of SEIA's now weighted two-thirds in favor of companies that do rooftop solar for utilities. And the contention of Jigar Shah and Barry Cinnamon is that the action is not at the federal level — they got their tax credit last year — but it's at the state level where there are all these battles over net metering and whether utilities should apply fixed charges on solar owners to make up for the lost revenue.
Monica Trauzzi: So how does this affect SEIA's search for a successor to Rhone Resch?
Rod Kuckro: Well, as Barry Cinnamon told me on the phone yesterday, the ball is now in their governance court. The board has to decide as they look for an executive director what kind of person they want, what the experience level's going to be. They really don't need someone who's good with Congress. They've got what they need from Congress, but they need somebody who's good with the industry to bridge this divide between the utilities and the rooftop providers. They make the point, that is, Shah and Cinnamon, that most of the jobs in the United States in solar are for the rooftop installers. It's a blue-collar industry, and they want to keep those jobs in the states where they're growing.
Monica Trauzzi: So what's next for the conversation? Where does this go from here? And I know you received a lot of reaction to your story that was in EnergyWire.
Rod Kuckro: Well, we'll know a lot, frankly, based on the person that's chosen to succeed Rhone Resch, the departed CEO at SEIA. We'll also get to see whether there'll be any efforts to give the state executive directors of SEIA more authority and actually a role on the board. If not, what we might witness is what's happened before, Monica. You've seen it with other trade associations. There could be a permanent split, and you could have essentially a utility-scale solar industry association and one that represents only distributed generation installers.
Monica Trauzzi: It'll be interesting to see what happens.
Rod Kuckro: Yes, it will.
Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for joining me.
Rod Kuckro: You're welcome.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
Photo Credit: Ralph Alswang
With the federal tax credit secured, Resch decides it’s time to move on from SEIA.
by Stephen Lacey
April 15, 2016
Rhone Resch, the man who's steered the U.S. solar industry's top lobbying group for a dozen years, is leaving his position at the end of May.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) published a letter from Resch detailing his decision to step down this afternoon. "Now is the right time for me to move on to new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead," he wrote.
Resch led national advocacy efforts during some of the most important moments for the American solar industry, including the passage of the eight-year Investment Tax Credit in 2008, passage of the stimulus package in 2009, and the most recent renewal of the Investment Tax Credit last December.
According to Resch's resignation letter, SEIA grew from 65 members in 2004 to 1,000 members in 2016.
The industry now employs over 200,000 people and is on track to install 20 gigawatts of capacity annually in the next five years, according to GTM Research.
While the solar industry has seen exponential growth and many political successes under Resch, his tenure was not without a bit of controversy. Some had criticized him for his salary, which was modest compared to other Washington lobbyists, but large for solar industry standards.
Many were also upset with SEIA and Resch for not taking a harder line on Chinese solar manufacturers during tariff disputes.
His legacy is undoubtedly positive. There were many local advocacy factors that enabled solar's growth, but Resch played a central role in ensuring that the solar industry's voice was heard in the halls of Congress and the White House -- well before anyone took it seriously.
Below is Resch's letter in full.
After twelve remarkable years at the helm of SEIA, I have decided to step down as President and CEO on May 31st. I leave feeling confident that SEIA will carry on the significant progress the organization has made during my tenure.
As I consider the next steps in fulfilling my own career goals, I can’t help but look back on my time with deep gratitude for the great people I have met along the way. From the individual members who are building this industry one installation at a time, to the many mentors who have served on the Executive Committee and the Board, to solar champions of all kinds who motivated me to fight as hard as I could for solar, this has been an incredible professional experience.
During my time with SEIA, we collectively installed more than 30 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy, increased US jobs by more than 200,000 and forced the cost of solar down by more than 80%. This growth pumped more than $150 billion into the U.S. economy during difficult economic times.
We passed the investment tax credit (ITC) that jump started the industry in 2005, worked tirelessly to ensure the ITC never expired and most recently executed an ITC extension that will provide unprecedented market stability for the industry through 2023. We expanded state RPS’s across the country and protected and enhanced net energy metering laws to expand markets for distributed solar. We created dozens of initiatives that streamlined the siting, permitting and financing of large-scale solar energy projects. And we co-created Solar Power International (SPI), which is now rated as one of the “top 50 conferences and trade shows” in the country.
We also grew SEIA into one of the most politically effective trade associations in Washington D.C. and in state capitals across the country. Since 2004, SEIA expanded from an association with a budget of $350,000 and 65 members to one with a $12 million budget and about 1,000 member companies today. And together we created a powerful, single voice for the solar industry, representing all technologies and all markets, including residential, commercial and industrial and utility-scale solar.
I am inspired by and proud of these accomplishments, but most importantly, I am thankful to have worked with some of the smartest and hardest-working people I have ever met. SEIA has truly become my second family, and I could not be prouder of each staff member and their dedication to our mission.
I am honored to have made a small contribution to help create an industry that has such a positive impact on the U.S. economy, energy security and the environment. With the ITC effectively extended through 2023 and solar energy markets growing throughout the country, now is the right time for me to move on to new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Again, thank you for the trust you have put in me to lead such a worthwhile and noble organization.