“The solar industry is at crossroad; we’ve either got to get big or go home,”Rhone Resch, president and CEO of theSolar Energy Industries Association, told attendees of Solar Power International ’09’s opening session.
Resch, and other speakers such asRobert Kennedy Jr., named one ofTime Magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet” for his success in helping Riverkeeper lead the fight to restore the Hudson River, andEd Begley Jr., star of HGTV’s “Living with Ed,” railed against the huge subsidies being given to the coal and oil industries.
Attendees were told the United States has the potential to become the biggest solar energy market in the world, but it has to get on a level playing field with fossil fuels.
Resch said that fossil fuel industries received $72 billion in federal subsidies between 2002 and 2008 while the solar industry scored less than $1 billion.
“Taxpayers are forced to subsidize companies like ExxonMobil, companies that are the richest in the history of the world,” he said. Resch urged attendees to get active politically, to raise big money for politicians and mobilize constituents to pressure Congress to support the solar agenda.
“In 2008, the oil industry contributed $22 million to political candidates, the utility industry $21 million,” Resch said. “The solar industry gave $138,000. We cannot compete with the entrenched energy interests unless we step up our game.”
Resch also indicated that oil and coal interests are spending millions of dollars on PR and advertising, much of it a deliberate effort to discredit the solar industry. “We have relied on good will long enough, and if that’s the only arrow in our quiver, we will lose.”
Resch proposed a “Solar Bill of Rights”:
1 – Americans
have the right to put solar on their homes or businesses. Antiquated rules
prevent many homes and businesses from going solar. From restrictive covenants
to onerous connection, permitting and inspection fees these rules create
fundamental barriers to solar. Utilities should not be allowed to restrict
green power with red tape.
2 – Americans have the right to connect their solar system to the grid with uniform national standards. This is as simple as creating a standard jack for telephones.
3 – Consumers have the right to Net Meter and be compensated at the very least with full retail electricity rates.
4 – We have a right to a fair competitive environment. Today, solar has anything but.
5 – We also have the right to equal access to public lands. Oil and gas companies are operating on 45 million acres of public lands. Today, solar companies have access to zero. America has the best solar resources in the world and we can’t harness the full potential of the sun without accessing our sun-baked lands of the West, Resch said.
6 – We have the right to interconnect and build new transmission lines. Here, too, we seek no more than what other industries have.
7 – Americans have the right to buy solar electricity from our utilities.
8 – Consumers have the right, and should expect, the highest ethical treatment from the solar industry. We will not stand for those who cheat, lie and take advantage of the good name of solar energy.
Secretary of Labor Offers SupportHilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor, addressed the group at the opening session as well. She indicated the United States can remain one of the world’s leading importers of foreign oil, or we can make investments that would allow us to become the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy.
“We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for lasting prosperity,” Solis said. “We believe that a more prosperous future for our nation’s economy means making investments in energy efficiency and clean energy today.”
She indicated the Recovery Act will invest more than $80 billion in clean energy. She said the Department of Energy estimates that solar in the U.S. could be at the beginning of a 25 percent growth rate, resulting in solar contributing between 10-20 percent of total electricity by 2030.