Regular readers of this blog know that the solar industry has had a PR problem for a long time. Indeed, part of the reason why we write this blog is to help counter some of those negative images and misinformation. But now the Solar Energy Industry Association - SEIA - is urging the solar industry as a whole to fight back. It’s about time.
SEIA has just released a new, two-and-a-half minute video ad highlighting the extent of the fossil fuel industry attack on renewables and calling on the industry, and our allies, to fight back. Here’s the video, check it out:
We have been SEIA members for a long time and fully support their efforts to rally the troops. Let’s be serious - we are in an existential fight against forces that have vastly greater resources to bring to bear than we do. What we have had on our side - and why the attack is so vitriolic and unrelenting - is the support of a huge majority of Americans. But negative advertising works and we are being buried in a flood of negative ads. If the industry doesn’t push back, in every way possible, we will be rolled - and our progress toward a more sustainable future will be rolled back, as well.
So, if you are in the industry, join SEIA. Contribute to their PAC. Add your story to their Solar Works for America campaign. If you don’t have one already, start a blog. Speak out on the issues important to this industry. When you see a posting online that you know is false, reply and counter the falsehood. If you see an article in the paper spewing the same misinformation yet again, write a letter to the editor (or do it online). Be a vocal presence for this industry and defend it, every day.
And to our friends out there - clients and would-like-to-be clients - we need your help as well. After all, for those of us in the industry it is true that our livelihoods are at stake, but none of us got into this business to become rich. We did it because we thought we could make a living while working on something that would make the world better, one roof at a time. Now we need you to raise your voices as well: when you hear people say solar isn’t real, or it isn’t affordable, or that there are no “green jobs” - you know better, and your enthusiastic contribution to the discussion carries great weight.
Without you, we cannot win. Together, we cannot lose.
Let’s get in the game.
Does the Solyndra failure mean, as some would assert, that the entire DoE loan guarantee program is a scam that puts taxpayer dollars at undue risk? Hardly. The vast majority of the projects approved under the program present very little risk to taxpayers. So why don't people know that?
We came across a couple of items today that seem to put this in some perspective. The first was a story on NPR that outlined Republican opposition to the loan program even though 16 of the 28 projects that it supported already have in place long-term energy sales contracts - making them nearly risk free. Nevertheless, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fl), now opposes the program entirely (although he backed it when it originated during the Bush Administration) and he believes that we simply "cannot compete with the Chinese" in solar panels and wind turbines.
Here's the entire story - it is worth a listen:
By way of contrast, the second piece that came to our attention today is from Rhone Resch, head of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA). Resch was sending out an update to the SEIA membership - Run on Sun is a proud SEIA member - sharing with them a blog post he received from Dan Pfeiffer, Communications Director at the White House. Drawing a clear distinction from Rep. Stearns, Pfeiffer cited Energy Secretary Steven Chu's admonition over this past weekend:
The United States faces a choice today: Will we sit on the sidelines and fall behind or will we play to win the clean energy race? Some say this is a race America can’t win. They’re ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat… Others say this is a race America shouldn’t even be in. They say we can’t afford to invest in clean energy. I say we can’t afford not to.
It’s not enough for our country to invent clean energy technologies – we have to make them and use them too. Invented in America, made in America, and sold around the world – that’s how we’ll create good jobs and lead in the 21st century.
Secretary Chu is absolutely right and it should be a matter of pride for all Americans that we not only compete, but that we win this competition. After all, Solyndra notwithstanding, we are competing successfully right now. Consider:
The solution to our problems is not to throw up our hands in despair and slink from the playing field. Rather, it is time to redouble our efforts and make the sort of investments that will really help our manufacturers - and installers, thank you - thrive.
UPDATE: The folks over at 1 Block Off the Grid have a great infographic that does a fine job of putting the Solyndra situation into perspective. You should go check it out and then come on back here to see what we have to say. Go ahead - check it out - we’ll wait!
Unless you have been hiding in a cave lately, you have undoubtedly encountered the media orgy over the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra. Yet amidst much media hype - most of it driven for political gain - the fact remains that as to the overall solar industry, Solyndra just doesn’t matter.
Much has been written about the so-called failure of federal solar subsidies in light of Solyndra’s $535 million dollar loan guarantee debacle. Indeed, some would go so far as to demand that all solar subsidies should be abolished. To be sure, there are many, more reasoned voices explaining the error of such thinking, including at the NY Times, Time magazine, and the Washington Post, but the fact of the matter is that for most solar installations, loan guarantees play no role whatsoever.
Here is where federal money does assist solar power installations:
Collectively, these federal tax subsidies save residential clients thousands of dollars, and as much as 50% of the total system cost for commercial clients. As a result, these subsidies play a part in every solar project installed in this country and they have gone a long way toward making solar more affordable, particularly during difficult economic times. The money is distributed to all who qualify for it without favorites - mostly - and in terms of actual dollars, it represents a tiny fraction of the $$$ lavished on other players in the energy marketplace.
Against that backdrop of how most solar projects operate in this country, the top executives at Solyndra just pleaded the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions posed by a decidedly hostile House committee. That is their right - enshrined in the Constitution, no less - and it does not mean that they are guilty of any wrongdoing. (Indeed, the lawyer in me notes that it would constitute malpractice to let your client testify before such a committee while multiple investigations are in the works.)
But the optics are awful.
Add this sad display on top of solar’s pre-existing PR problems and it is clear that, once again, the solar industry is in for some harsh words and tough times.
So what can the rest of us - who aren’t taking the Fifth but are actively promoting solar for our clients because we know that it is a great deal for them - do about this? Plenty. Here are some suggestions:
Solar is an exciting and dynamic industry and as such it has had and will continue to have winners and losers. But Solyndra aside, the future for solar is bright, and for those of us at Run on Sun, there’s nowhere else we would rather be - join us!