A Day in the Life of a Solar Lobbyist: Clean Solar’s view

Last Tuesday, August 18th, was Solar Worker Lobby Day 2015, organized by the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) and The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC). Over 200 solar workers representing over 60 companies, including Clean Solar, spoke with California state legislators and staff about current solar legislation: changing Net Energy Metering (NEM), extending the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), and funding solar for low-income renters. This legislation affects the solar industry in California and its workers, so we marched to the Capitol to educate Sacramento legislators that the fast-growing solar industry must not be slowed down by these three pieces of legislation or our California solar jobs could be at stake.

We were told lobby days were notoriously unorganized, but this is the general approximate timeline of the day:

8:00 a.m. – Over 200 workers gathered in the Basement Café of the Capitol Building, this was where our lobbying headquarters was. Workers signed in and received matching yellow “Solar Created My Job/Keep Solar Jobs Growing” t-shirts. Workers networked, joined up with other employees, and were served breakfast.

9:00 a.m. – Several speakers addressed the workers. A hired Sacramento lobbyist spoke of what to expect today and the general overview of how lobbying and each legislator meeting will go. The lobbyist mentioned that legislators meet with lobbying groups every day, so instead of getting too much into the details of the pieces of legislation, we should instead talk on a personal level about how they are important to keep both the solar industry growing and our jobs. CALSEIA Executive Director, Bernadette Del Chiaro then detailed the current solar legislations and how important speaking with legislators and their staff today was for the future of the solar industry. Solar Worker Lobby Day 2015 had three legislative priorities: secure Net Energy Metering (NEM) and market confidence for rooftop solar through Assembly Bill 327, extend the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) through bi-partisan resolution SJR 10, and pass Assembly Bill 693 which will create a fund to reduce energy bills for low-income renters through solar.

9:30 a.m. – Workers were organized into about 15 groups based on where they lived or worked so they could be assigned to legislators representing their area. Pre-determined group leaders introduced themselves followed by short introductions of our group of 8 workers. Clean Solar was teamed up with employees of a Bay Area-based solar mounting and racking manufacturer, a non-profit solar financing company, and another solar panel installer. Our group leader then announced the list of 5-7 legislators we were assigned to meet with, all of which served areas within the Bay Area. We were then given an overview of how the lobbying process works and how our unique backgrounds should be leveraged in our meetings. We decided the group leader would first summarize the pieces of legislation for staff and Assemblymembers and then allow each of us to tell our personal stories on why this legislation is important to keep the solar industry and our jobs.

10:00 a.m. – Our group had a short debrief of our first Assemblymember and then met with staff and Assemblymember Evan Low, serving the cities of Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, San Jose, and Saratoga. Despite this being our first meeting, our group’s organization was flawless and each group member was able to share their personal story. Low was very receptive and offered his insight into the solar industry. The meeting ended with a group member asking how much of an Assemblyman’s day is dedicated to meeting with lobbying groups and Low responded “about 90%”.

10:30 a.m. – While walking towards our next meeting, we had a short debrief of Assemblymember Richard Gordon, serving the mid to lower cities of San Mateo County. Unfortunately Assemblymember Gordon was unable to make the meeting, so we met with his staff. Fortunately, his staff was well aware of these three pieces of solar legislation and how they could potentially impact the California solar industry and job market.

11:00 a.m. – Our group leader informed us that we were actually double booked for this timeslot so we decided to break up into two smaller groups and meet with the Assemblymember serving our residence or work address. Clean Solar met with Kansen Chu serving the Fremont, Milpitas, and Santa Clara areas. Chu was very engaged and asked the most questions about NEM and the financing option PACE and what both could mean for the solar industry’s future.

11:30 a.m. – All groups were then instructed to meet for a couple group photos on the north entrance of the Capitol and inside the building.

12:00 p.m. – Groups reconvened in the Basement Café for lunch.

1:30 p.m. – Our next scheduled meeting was with Assemblymember Catherine Baker, serving the Walnut Creek, San Ramon, Dublin, Livermore, and Pleasanton areas. Baker spoke highly of solar’s impact in her district specifically in schools in Dublin.

2:00 p.m. – Senator Bob Wieckowski was our next scheduled meeting. He serves the Hayward, Union City, Fremont, Milpitas, and Santa Clara areas and is also the Chair of the Environmental Quality Committee. Unfortunately, we were not able to meet with Wieckowski but his staff was able to update us on his agenda and not surprisingly, he is a supporter of these pieces of legislation.

3:00 p.m. – Our final scheduled meeting was with Assemblymember Nora Campos, serving San Jose. Campos was unable to attend this meeting but we were able to meet with staff. Employees of a solar inverter company also joined this last meeting alongside our group.

Clean Solar had a very valuable experience at Solar Worker Lobby Day. It was beneficial to witness and be a part of lobbying firsthand and understanding its effect on legislation. It was rewarding to actually meet with the individual Assemblymembers, Senate, and their staff representing your residence or work and having the reassurance they support our agenda. This was just one day of lobbying, but the deadline for these pieces of legislation is fast approaching, so every day is more crucial than the last.

With the uncertainty the solar industry faces with the proposed legislation, the ITC expiration and proposed NEM changes, solar jobs are at stake. The solar industry has created more than 54,000 jobs in California, that’s more than the state’s five largest utilities combined. Clean Solar reported 237% workforce growth from 2011 to 2014 as reported on the national annual ranking of the Inc. 5000, 2015’s fastest growing private companies. To maintain our growth within this fast-growing industry and secure our jobs, legislative action needs to be taken in support of Net Energy Metering, the Investment Tax Credit, and a fund for solar for low-income renters.