The opening session of the Solar Power International Trade show in Las Vegas feels somewhat disjointed. While seemingly high level of attendance speaks to the rapidly expanding U.S. market, which is growing more than 50% annually.
And yet everyone here is aware of the threat that the industry is under. At the end of 2016, the main federal policy support for the solar industry, the 30% investment tax credit for solar installations, will expire.
In the panel's opening session, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) CEO Rhone Resch lost little time in focusing the attention of those attending on this problem. No matter what segment or technology, we all depend upon policy, notes Resch.
Describing an extension of the ITC as job number one, Resch laid out a plan for a renewed political effort, calling upon the efforts of SEIA member companies and the entire industry to participate. SEIA will be launching a social media campaign, as well as doubling down on its lobbying efforts. We have beaten long odds before, noted Resch.
And while Resch made many references to the political power of the Koch brothers, who have become famous for funding anti-renewable energy efforts, his effort has larger political problems.
At the national level, the opposition Republican Party remains utterly hostile to policies to support solar and other renewable energies. This party currently controls the U.S. House of Representatives, and is likely to also gain control of the U.S. Senate in November.
Resch made a point to emphasize right-wing supporters of solar, naming the Tea Party and Libertarians. However, while Debbie Dooley of the Tea Party Patriots in the state of Georgia has become a minor celebrity in renewable energy circles and the son of conservative icon Barry Goldwater has led pro-net metering efforts in Arizona, such state-level pro-solar activity has not yet translated to Republican support Congress.
In fact, one of the committees that Resch named in his efforts, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has led a serious of witch hunts against the U.S. Department of Energy's Loan Guarantee Program.
In the past, SEIA has suggested greater pull with the Republicans than it actually had. In 2010, I interviewed a SEIA official who claimed that solar was supported on both sides the aisle, months before the Republican Party launched an offensive against renewable energy policies.
Market analysts have expressed that the end of the ITC is already having an impact on U.S. utility-scale project development. It's still more than two years until the credit expires, and there is time left to make changes. But in the current political climate, SEIA has its work cut out for it.
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