Solidifying Clean Energy As a Political Force in New England

     

September 2012 Post Event Update

I had a great time at Munro’s conference and learned a lot. Thanks again to Munro for hosting. My workshop went well, it’s a little difficult to get people to open up but after a few minutes everyone got the idea. Here’s a few things I learned from speaking with people, all of these are anecdotes.

  • The confusion around REC programs is causing delays in market growth. Technically, Rhode Island and Connecticut have programs, but it’s still unclear how exactly they will work
  • Some smaller firms are having trouble getting into large commercial work because the “big guys” (Borrego, Beaumont Solar, Nexamp, etc) keep getting all the business.
  • There some confusion from property owners around the Massachusetts SREC program and how exactly it works. This is compounded when many installers describe how the program works in different, sometimes contradictory ways.
  • During the workshop, the main question I continued to raise when people brought up issues was “is this something we can fix/work on, or do we just need to wait until the government/utility deals with it?”. Unfortunately, most of the issues, like how exactly the CT ZREC program works, are out of our hands. However, I’ve decided to create a “Pocket Guide to the Massachusetts SREC Program” that will include all of the important talking points of the program.
  • Here are what I felt were the most important photos from the event. You can find the rest of the photos here. 

The Original Post

Last week, I had a conversation with Glenn Maltais from Munro Distributing about their “Innovations in Clean Energy” conference that is happening on Thursday, Sept. 6th. At first, I thought it was “just another” clean energy onference, but after speaking with Glenn for a few moments, it was clear he had a larger goal in mind: connecting, educating and politically mobilizing the huge influx of clean energy contractors that are entering the industry.

Then I started thinking, when will clean energy become a major political force and what exactly do we need to do to make this happen? The purpose of the Innovation in Clean Energy event is not only to provide basic education and guidance to contractors and new firms that are joining to the industry, but to make sure that we have the information and relationships establish to be a political force and realize that we can have a huge impact locally.

I’ll be there and moderating a workshop at 11am titled “How to Make Money in Renewable Energy”, if you’re around it would be great to have you. You can register here. In the workshop we’ll be discussing and sharing things that specific firms are doing to make money in the industry, and how this overlaps with policy.

Here’s the rest of the conversation I had with Glenn about clean energy and policy.

Question to Glenn: From a policy perspective, what is your goal hosting the conference?

  • Answer: In short, to do our part as it pertains to securing clean energy’s place (and all the attributes it represents) on Main St. USA. Granted it’s somewhat unusual for a private company such as ours to host an event of this breadth and scope. However, in light of how dysfunctional Washington politics have become (the “if you say it’s white – I will say it’s black” mentality) it should be apparent to all that consistent, bankable and sustainable solutions to our current and growing energy challenges will not be coming out of Washington anytime soon. Having said that, Washington is only part of the equation, it will take forward-thinking and policy support at the state-level, like that found in Massachusetts, to permanently move the needle as well. But there is a third leg to this clean energy stool, and that is the business sector – we too must do our part in meaningful ways to support this fledgling clean energy movement. Under the current fragmented framework that makes up the Clean Energy sector progress will be slow and the future uncertain. Collectively however, it is possible to achieve the required critical mass. Allow me to end where we began…there is strength in numbers! If we clear the path and provide them with the necessary political cover, our leaders will follow.

It’s an interesting questions to ponder: with the huge growth of the clean energy industry, when will we become a political powerhouse? There are snippets of data that are suggesting a tipping point is coming, but we still have some pushing to do.

Here are a few data points that discuss the groundswell of activity

Some points worth noting in this data:
  • Solar pv is adding jobs extremely quickly and we have the numbers to prove it. However, the data also suggests that many more jobs are being created in energy efficiency, R+D and manufacturing. The Massachusetts data shows that there’s also a huge amount of jobs to be created in R+D, and also energy efficiency. If there were 100,000 solar pv jobs in the US and 73,000 clean energy jobs in MA, a large number of the jobs in Massachusetts MUST NOT be related to solar PV.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, Manufacturing jobs are growing in the US, but it tend to be advanced manufacturing

One of the things I noticed Glenn referred to is that clean energy is now entering the mass market on the supply side, meaning the types contractors doing the work, similar to the change we’ve seen with type of property owners that are investing in this technology. While energy efficiency upgrades and solar used to be performed by niche firms, they’re now being performed by general contractors.

Q: In the past, there used to be pure solar PV installers that did solar PV 100% of the time, now is it common to see roofers or general contractors that just do solar 30% or 40% of the time? 

  • A: Yes, as an electrical distributor with a real commitment to renewables, over the last 4 years we have seen the bulk of our solar equipment sales shift from primarily pure PV contractors to conventional trade contractors.

Q: With that being said, it’s clear that we need to work harder to get the industry more involved politically. What do you think the industry really needs to understand from a policy perspective? 

  • A: With regard to energy policies at all levels, the industry needs to understand that there is strength in numbers – and act to leverage its collective resources and amplify its voice. But, I am not stating anything here that is not already known, what is not known at this time is how or perhaps who, is to bring this action about.

Q: Does everyone working in the industry realize how closely their jobs are tied to policy? 

  • A: I cannot speak for everyone but most do. Having said that, there is a big difference between being aware, and being involved. Because the clean energy sector does not have nearly the amount of political clout that the fossil fuel industry does, much of the progress that has been made over the last decade or so could easily be eroded by a shift in political winds emanating out of Washington, or any number of states. In order for the clean energy sector to have a powerful voice in Washington­ – which is what is needed in order to gain mindshare and impact  national energy policies – it needs to organize, lobby and put its money with its mouth is…so to speak.

When I asked Glenn how he would like to see contractors getting more involved in policy was clear: 

  • I think time, or more accurately a lack thereof, is a big obstacle for most contractors (and other stakeholders) with regard to getting more involved in the arduous process of solidifying clean energy’s place on a regional and national scale – time and the lack of a clear path as to how to get more involved. As I see it, when it comes to getting stakeholders involved, the methods and models that are unfolding in front of us right now (and do so every 4 years) in the form presidential election campaigns are the answer: Establishing local chapters of national clean energy organizations where rainmakers (paid and volunteer alike) can interact with stakeholders at the local level, i.e. inform, communicate with, relate to, rally – and raise funds for lobbying advertising, education, administration, etc., etc…for one common cause. I think this proven method coupled with the greater use of social media in the short run, could and would make a big difference in advancing clean energy place in our society.
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About Chris Williams

Chris Williams works with HeatSpring developing products and managing online content. Chris is a NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer and an IGSHPA Accredited Geothermal Installer. He has installed over 300kW of solar PV systems, tens of residential and commercial solar hot water systems and 50 tons of geothermal equipment. You can find him on Linkedin
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