The State of the Solar Industry: Page 8 of 9

California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA at calseia.org)
Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director

CALSEIA is a California nonprofit organization created to promote the growth of the solar industry and expand the use of all solar technologies in the state through policy development, advocacy, education, networking and business services. Since 2013, Bernadette Del Chiaro has served as the executive director, coming to CALSEIA with more than a decade of policy and advocacy experience on renewable energy issues in California.

What was the good news out of California in 2016?

The biggest policy event of 2016 was the strong NEM 2.0 decision issued by the CPUC. Despite fierce opposition from California’s large and powerful utilities, and in the face of a three-to-two vote of the Governor Brown–appointed board, the CPUC adopted a strong successor program that will allow customer-sited solar to continue to grow over the next several years.

Did the California solar industry lose any fights this year?

The state suffered market losses in utility territories governed by local municipal utilities and irrigation districts. Alameda, Imperial, Modesto and Palo Alto are just some of the local utilities that have turned their back on rooftop solar, essentially killing the solar market going forward by effectively eliminating net metering.

What are CALSEIA’s top priorities this year?

Our number one priority in 2017 is our Storage and Smart Grid Project, which aims to usher in Grid 2.0, enabling high levels of distributed solar and ensuring that the customer-sited solar market continues to grow. Specifically, we will work to improve interconnection processes, create new tariffs for grid support services, launch a market transformation initiative for storage, and ensure that the next generation of NEM tariffs clears the way for continued growth of distributed solar.

How will these initiatives benefit your members, customers or the industry as a whole?

Making storage paired with rooftop solar a reality for everyday consumers is the single most important thing we can do to promote the future growth of the solar industry. This vision will come about through a combination of storage-friendly rate structures that give market value to smart inverters and storage systems, such as rebates to drive up demand and drive down prices, as well as consumer and contractor training and information to build the knowledge base to take this next big step into a clean energy future.

What is CALSEIA’s current membership profile and has it changed notably in recent years?

CALSEIA is in a major growth phase. Over the last 3 years, we’ve quadrupled our membership, and we show no signs of slowing down. We’ll start 2017 with over 430 members, and we aim to exceed 500 by the middle of the coming year. Our membership is broad, with contractors and developers making up about half of our companies. The other half is a mix of manufacturers, financiers, software developers and other support service providers. Given this growth, we are able to represent the industry in every major decision-making forum from the CPUC to the state legislature to OSHA. We are also able to help our members with more day-to-day business, such as local permitting and HOA battles that can add up and become quite the thorn in the industry’s side.

What is the status of California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program?

Extending the Self-Generation Incentive Program was an important accomplishment of the 2016 legislative session, as it effectively kept the lights on for distributed storage projects. However, the program is not big enough, and the new funds are likely to be subscribed by mid-2017, leaving a gap in funding for an industry that is trying to get off the ground. Rate structures that truly value storage, along with other grid-support services such as smart inverters, are still a ways away. Without a stand-alone incentive program to give the industry and consumers alike consistent support to drive up demand and drive down prices, California’s emerging storage market will remain expensive, serving only a niche market. This is exactly what happened to the solar PV market in the early 2000s, before adoption of the California Solar Initiative in 2006. Creating a market-transformational initiative for California’s storage industry in the next 3 years is critical.

California has always been a leader in solar policy and market development. As individual states work to develop or expand their solar industries, do you have suggestions for areas of focus?

The most important thing this industry can do is build up our outside game. Having and mobilizing strong public and coalition support, to match strong advocacy and regulatory work, is critical. Money still talks, and this industry, despite our recent growth, cannot match the resources of our opponents. Our number one resource, besides the sun itself, is people power. It is what delivered a strong NEM 2.0 decision in California, and it is what will always be the foundation of successful policy outcomes. Just look at Florida and Amendment 1. The utilities understood the power of public support for solar and tried to harness it for their own deceitful self-interests. It looked like we were going to lose until the utilities were caught in their lie and the public was made aware with the help of the media. This recent story demonstrates the importance of the outside game.

Article Discussion

Related Articles