Rhone Resch Opening Remarks at SPI 2014

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The following remarks were given Oct. 20, 2014. 

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Good afternoon everyone.   Welcome to Las Vegas.  Even if you don’t gamble – and even if you don’t know it – right now you are up to your neck in a high-stakes, no-limit poker game.

So let me start off by asking you a very simple question: Is your job important to you?  Is it?  Let’s see a show of hands.  Raise them high.  Now look around the room.  What do you think?  Well, the answer should be pretty obvious. 

What’s not so obvious is how close you could be – or the person standing right next to you -- to losing your job in the not-too-distant future. 

It happened to the wind industry last year when uncertainty over the Production Tax Credit resulted in 30,000 lost jobs nationwide.  Think about that.  30,000 jobs gone in the blink of an eye. 

Now to put that in business terms, just one wind turbine – ONE – was installed in the U.S. in the first half of 2013 because of a panic in the marketplace over the PTC.

Don’t kid yourselves. It can happen to solar, too.  This isn’t the time to roll the dice on your future. 

You need to get into the game.  

It’s absolutely imperative…job #1…that we extend the 30 percent solar Investment Tax Credit past 2016. 

Let me be blunt: It’s not going to happen without your help.  We need each and every one of you -- now…and more than ever.

So, today is the official start of our round-the-clock campaign to “Extend the ITC.”

Before laying out that campaign for you in detail, let’s pause a second…and think about how far we’ve come – and how much we have to lose.

As most of you know, 2014 is the 40th anniversary of SEIA as a trade association. 

It all started on January 24, 1974 – with Richard Nixon in the White House knee deep in the Watergate scandal – when five very determined people met in the noisy basement of the Washington Hilton to discuss the possibility of establishing an association for the nascent solar energy industry.

They agreed to create, in their words, “a broad-based trade association supporting prompt, orderly, widespread and open growth of solar energy resources.”  This was the beginning of SEIA’s four decade of successful advocacy.

Well, it hasn’t always been orderly, but widespread and open growth is exactly what’s happening today. 

Think about it.  In the past two years alone, more solar has been installed in the United States than in the previous 38 years combined.  That’s not only remarkable – it’s also truly historic.

And as someone who is a total history buff, let me point out a few other “historic” facts.  100 years ago in 1914 federal spending was less than $1 billion, the Panama Canal opened, the Federal Trade Commission was established and World War I began.

But something else took place back then.  Our friends in the oil and gas industry began capitalizing on a huge tax break known as “Intangible Drilling and Development Costs.”

Well, guess what?  100 years, and hundreds and hundreds of billion dollars later, big oil is still reaping this very generous benefit – along with many others buried in the U.S. Tax Code.

Explain to me: How is that fair?  100 years for big oil.  But just 10 years for the 30 percent solar ITC.  Really?  That’s fairness?

But this disparity is even worse than it seems.  Since the United States first began “incentivizing” energy development, the average annual subsidy has been $4.8 billion for oil and gas - compared to just $370 million for all renewable technologies.

I ask again: How is this fair?  How is this a leveling playing field?  How does this kind of policy support an “all of the above” energy policy?  Simply put, it doesn’t.

And yet many Members of Congress, who are friends and allies of the Koch Brothers and other anti-solar groups, want to end the ITC for good by either repealing it outright – or by letting it expire at the end of 2016. I've got a simple response to that: Just forget about it. Walk away. 

Today, I’m going to make you a promise:  As sure as World War I started in 1914, if the Koch Brothers and their allies come after solar, 2014 will be the beginning of World War III.

It’s not going to be easy.  And, yes, we will be fighting an uphill battle every step of the way. 

But we have one thing they don’t – overwhelming popular public support.  In poll after poll, more than 90 percent of Americans support greater development of solar energy in the US. 

At the end of this campaign, we’re going to have a bigger, more determined army, motivated by a nobler, more righteous cause – and it starts with every single person in this room, and it starts today!

Let me remind you, we’ve beaten long odds before.  SEIA first created the ITC in the 2005 Energy Bill.  We were able to get solar included during a time when we had a Republican House, Republican Senate and a Republican President.  How? Because we executed a strategic, hard-fought, legislative campaign led by SEIA. 

Since that time, solar activity in the United States has exploded. 

Annual solar installations in 2014 will be 70 times higher than they were in 2006. Think about that: 70 times higher.

By the end of this year, there will be nearly 30 times more solar capacity online than in 2006.

We’ve gone from being an $800-million industry in 2006 to a $15-billion industry today.

The price to install a solar rooftop system has been cut in half, while utility systems have dropped by 70 percent.

It’s taken the U.S. solar industry 40 years to install the first 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar.  Now, we’re going to install the next 20 GW in the next two years.

And finally, during every single week of this year we’re going to install more capacity than what we did during the entire year in 2006.  Tell me that’s not worth fighting for!

So anyway you look at it, the ITC has played a major role in solar’s remarkable growth in the United States.   We are more competitive, the marketplace is maturing, financing has become more innovative and solar is no longer considered a nice, little niche industry. 

Today, solar is big business - and the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America. 

But the best is yet to come if we just stick together and work together to keep the ITC in place and to pass “commence construction,” while also preserving and expanding Net Energy Metering (NEM) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS) across America. 

We also have a tremendous, new opportunity to significantly expand solar assets nationwide as states search for cost-effective ways to meet future obligations under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

But without an ongoing, committed and organized effort, an effort that involves all of you, we will look weak – and our critics will target us in the same way that a lion stalks its prey and then moves in for the kill.

It has happened time and time again.  Not long ago, the Heartland Institute – funded in large part by the Koch Brothers – focused their efforts on abolishing North Carolina’s environmentally-friendly Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, claiming it will lead to higher taxes and 3,500 lost jobs statewide. 

At the same time, according to internal documents obtained by the media, Heartland planned to secretly develop school curriculums as a way to create doubt about the causes of climate change. 

That’s the kind of duplicity, subterfuge and deep pockets that we’re facing every single day.  Make no mistake about it, there are people and groups that will do anything - and say anything - to try and stop solar dead in its tracks.

And they aren’t discouraged easily.  After losing RPS battles in state after state last year, the Koch brothers and their allies moved the fight to friendlier territory in Ohio, and on June 13 succeeded in freezing the Buckeye State’s RPS for two years, along with its solar renewable energy credit (SREC) market.

That, in turn, created a horrible ripple effect, since bordering states – such as Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and Michigan – can sell their SRECs in Ohio.  What happened?  SREC prices in these states tumbled, and the outlook for future solar development in Ohio suddenly turned very cloudy.

That victory has emboldened our enemies.  Soon, the anti-solar forces will be turning their sights on the ITC, recognizing its undeniable importance to the growth of solar by creating market certainty, incentivizing long-term investments and lowering costs for homeowners, businesses, schools, the government and our military.

So today is the official kickoff of our efforts to extend the 30 percent solar ITC past 2016.  Despite the craziness in Washington, D.C., I believe we can win.

But being in Vegas should also remind us that we’re facing some pretty tough odds again.  Make no mistake about it.  This absolutely is going to be a long, hard, uphill battle. 

But by sticking together - and working together - we can be successful once again, just as we were nearly a decade ago.

Why do I believe that we will win?  Very simple.  We have a strategic, well-thought-out game plan, featuring all of the components and the precision of “do-what-it-takes-to-win” political campaign. 

Here are our three overarching objectives:

#1:  We are going to be relentless and thorough in educating Members of Congress and their staffs about the true value of the ITC – how it creates tens of thousands of jobs, pumps tens of billions of dollars into the economy and helps to significantly reduce pollution and protect our environment.

#2:  We are going pound away at the “fairness argument.”  Unless Congress is willing to end all incentives – for all energy sources, including coal and big oil – then the ITC is a critically important public policy when it comes to “leveling the playing field.”

And #3:  Americans overwhelmingly want to see more deployment of solar nationwide, and we are going to rally them in support of our cause through an expansive social media and earned media campaign.  Trust me.  Nothing gets the attention of politicians more than a 90 percent favorability rating.

Working with SEIA’s federal policy committee – and at the direction of our board of directors – the ITC campaign will be spearheaded by our Federal Affairs Department, with major assists from our research, communications and state affairs teams. 

We will be focusing our advocacy on leadership offices in both the House and Senate, as well as key players on the Senate Finance Committee, Senate Energy Committee, House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Another major component of the campaign is to rally public support in key states, such as California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, to name just a few.  We will work with our chapters and individual companies across the country to increase the awareness and participation of the public to support the ITC.

Communication, coordinated by SEIA, is another key element that will help to drive our success.  Among other things, we will be developing and delivering effective, compelling and timely messages, while also expanding our audiences to include GOP lawmakers, conservative groups, Tea Party members and Libertarians. 

Are we going to win all of these people all over?  Of course not.  But we can and we will create new champions and mitigate some of our entrenched opposition, by better educating these groups and their leaders about the real value of solar and the importance of “tax fairness.”

As part of our ITC campaign, we have also launched a major new communications initiative, “A Million Voices for Solar,” on Facebook.  We kicked off this important effort on “Shout Out for Solar” Day back in January, and we’ve already added more than 300,000 Facebook followers since then, many of those people also joining our Solar Power Advocacy Network, also known as SPAN.

So day by day, we are building a powerful grassroots army, which will be critically important to us in the months ahead

We are also going to be engaging solar employees and their families, as well as all of our allies and partners, which include a wide range of very influential business and environmental groups, as well as other renewable energy organizations and our state SEIA chapters.

By putting a renewed priority on alliance development, we will have the capability in the future to mobilize a huge, grassroots movement in support of the ITC, as well as NEM, RPS and other solar-friendly policies. 

But here’s the most important thing to remember – we can’t do it alone.  So I’ll ask you again: Is your job important to you? 

If the answer is yes, then it’s absolutely imperative for every single company involved in the solar industry to be actively engaged with their U.S. Senators and Representatives.  They need to know that your company exists, that the ITC is important to you, and that you vote. And your family members vote, and your friends and neighbors vote!

This kind of retail networking and lobbying is what established industries do - it’s what we need to do, and it pays off in the long run.

Get active, get involved, get connected.

So what can you do right now to help?  If you don’t already belong, then join SEIA now.  We need you to be a voice in this potentially make-it-or-break it debate, and you cannot be effective if you are not part of the organization leading this effort. 

If you are a member, then take it upon yourself to personally recruit two new members to SEIA.  If everyone did that, we could triple the size of our organization and vastly increase our effectiveness.

Second, contribute to SEIA’s Political Action Committee, SolarPAC.  It’s critically important to support our champions in Congress.  Since 2008, the Koch brothers alone have contributed more than $250 million to dozens of political and policy organizations.  Why do they do that?  Because they want to protect their livelihoods.  You need to do the same thing.  Join the SEIA PAC. 

Finally, we are starting an online petition to Congress in support of extending the ITC – with hopes of getting more than a million signatures.  Please swing by the SEIA booth this week and be among the first to voice your public support for our industry.

Make no mistake about it: We are facing the battle of our lifetimes.  But I’m reminded of something the great American industrialist Henry Ford once said when faced with difficulty.

Coming together is a beginning.

Keeping together is progress.

Working together is success.

Harnessing the energy of the world’s greatest resource for the benefit of the world’s people should be reason enough for all of us to work together and to achieve that success.

Thank you for coming to SPI 2014 and enjoy the show!

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