A new era for US solar

pv magazine: What are your top priorities as the new leader of SEIA?

Abigail Hopper: I have three top priorities. One is ensuring that the tax credits that were put in place a little over a year ago remain in place, and that there is no change in this federal policy, or any other changes on the federal side. The implications of maintaining a steady policy environment will be important.

The second priority is to really focus on the states. As you know, so much of solar policy really happens at the state level. It will be important to really make sure that we are active in those states that are undergoing policy changes, to make sure that there is policy to really allow for the growth of the solar industry.

Third, I feel really strongly about ensuring the diversification of our workforce. We employ over 200,000 folks in the solar industry, and making sure that this looks like our population is a big priority for me. And also to ensure that a diverse customer set can benefit, including people in urban environments that might not now have access to install solar on their houses.

In your mind, what are the odds of a repeal of the ITC?

I am not going to call the odds on this. I am cautiously optimistic that the tax credits that were put in place will stay in place. It was a bipartisan agreement, and legislators understand that there are people in their communities who benefit from solar.

That’s the view here in Washington, and it is important to remind our legislators of the value that solar brings and how important it is to their constituents.

SEIA has always emphasized that it works “across the aisle” with Republicans. What does that look like under a Trump Administration and with the current congress?

It is important that we work with both parties because what we are talking about is job creation and infrastructure. So many Americans are asking for solar, and they are asking for it to be put on their homes and businesses. Our role is to educate, to have a clear communication with consumers and politicians about the benefits that it can bring to their home and their grid.

We have a president who denies the science behind Climate Change and whose attitudes towards renewable energy are a combination of blistering ignorance and hostility. How do you deal with such an individual in the White House?

I would go back to education. Solar has such an incredibly powerful story to tell. As I said, there are more than 200,000 Americans employed by the solar industry in the United States. The last data that I saw said that there are more people employed by the solar industry than the fossil fuel industry.

If you look, there are over a million solar energy systems installed in the United States, that is over one million customers that have chosen to install solar. It really is consistent with what our new president is espousing, to focus on investment, to focus on infrastructure, to allow people freedom of choice.

As you look at the policy landscape, what do you see as the most critical policy discussions?

I think that one of the most important themes in the solar industry at the moment is looking out at the future, and figuring out how it is that the solar industry can remain sustainable. How do we continue to grow and how do we achieve this with the grids that we have today?

We are only now beginning to understand the benefits that solar systems bring to the grid, either individually or as a pool. A lot of the conversations at the state level are on how you value the electricity produced by solar, and continue to allow for the growth of solar markets.

With so much clean energy policy happening at the state level, what are SEIA’s plans regarding state chapters, and the connection between these state chapters and the national organization?

I had the benefit of meeting the head of the California SEIA last Friday, and what I anticipate is that like the other state chapters we will work together. We are primarily aligned in our interests to grow solar, and to provide a clear path forward for our industry.

As I look at the United States I see the proliferation of solar beyond a few leading markets to more and more states, and in some of these I have not seen SEIA being very active. What are SEIA’s plans for states where you do not have state chapters and have not had much of a presence to date?

Where there is opportunity to grow solar, we will certainly be active. It is our role to figure out how to capitalize on this, and the combination of our national policy experience and the on-the-ground expertise of local chapters can be very fruitful.

Does SEIA have a role to play beyond traditional policy advocacy?

I think there are a couple of different ways in which we do have a role to play beyond traditional policy advocacy, including the work that we are doing around consumer protection. I think developing best practices and doing education with state legislatures to ensure that we have very strong consumer protection in the solar industry are both important.

Thinking about how we communicate regarding the benefits of solar is different than policy, and I think the communication aspect is important. And as you know we do a fair amount of research, so that we know what the current state of the solar industry is, and that will definitely continue.

Is there anything else we haven’t talked about that you think is important to our readers?

We talked a lot about priorities number one and two, but I would reiterate priority number three, diversity is incredibly important to make sure that solar is accessible to all parts of our society so that the benefits of solar can be shared by all Americans.