For weeks now we’ve seen the Solyndra bankruptcy being used as a political punching bag. Now the overblown hype around one solar company is putting real industry growth and viable projects at risk. Enough is enough.
Last last week, SolarCity was informed that the DOE would not be able to move forward on its conditional loan guarantee for Project SolarStrong – a shining example of American military leadership on clean energy. The project sought to install solar panels on 160,000 military housing units across as many as 124 bases and 33 states, making it the country’s largest residential solar project by a long shot. In addition to generating secure homegrown power, SolarStrong would create sorely needed jobs in military communities across the country. The project is about as low-risk as it gets. It combines proven technology, a trusted solar developer, and strong private capital to deliver reliable returns to a highly credit-worthy customer. And yet SolarStrong has become a collateral damage in the DC political game. (See SolarCity’s appeal to Congress here). The military isn’t backing down from its support for renewables, and neither should federal or state policymakers.
Which is why we’re troubled to see fallout spread to the states – long the pioneers of solar and renewable energy progress in this country. California Treasurer Bill Lockyer has called for a moratorium on the state program that gives renewable energy companies sales tax exemptions.
Let’s take a look at what California’s investment in solar has achieved to date, shall we? In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger launched an ambitious program to build a million solar roofs and launch a robust solar industry across the state. In combination with the state’s RPS for utility solar, the resulting California Solar Initiative (CSI) has made the Golden State first in the nation in solar power generation and job creation. In fact California has eleven times the solar capacity of any other state. The CSI program has resulted in nearly 1 gigawatt of rooftop solar self-generation, employed over 36,000 people and leveraged $4.5 billion in private capital. Our state’s cash-strapped schools are among the biggest beneficiaries. Los Angeles Unified School district recently announced that it’s going solar in a big way—so much so that it expects to save $114 million in utility bills over the next twenty years. That money can now go to education rather than energy bills. To date, California public sector buildings have installed or in the process of installing over 600 MW worth of solar systems, which would result in over $2.5 billion in energy savings. Meanwhile on the wholesale side, California utilities have signed contracts for over 8 Gigawatts (8000MW) of solar, over half of which comes in at prices lower than the costs of building new natural gas plants. California’s solar investment is producing tremendous returns in terms of local jobs, safe power, and lower costs.
Solar is delivering on its promise – in California and states nationwide. Why would policymakers choose to launch a full scale attack on this rare spot of economic opportunity? This is not about partisan politics. This is not about placing blame in the run up to an election. This is about precious American jobs, security and opportunity. And it deserves our support.