Every year at our Equinox celebration in San Francisco, Vote Solar honors Solar Champions -- state and local leaders who have performed extraordinary service for the solar cause. Our slate of 2017 champions are all raising the solar bar in a big way and exemplifying the kind of leadership that our communities and our climate need now, more than ever.

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Solar on 100% of new construction: Scott Wiener, California State Senator

When Senator Wiener was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, he passed a bill requiring solar on new construction in the city.  Now that he’s a California State Senator, he’s working to do the same for the whole state.  

Why is this such a great idea?  First of all, it makes for some mighty cheap solar.  When you put solar on an existing house, most of the price you pay isn’t the materials, but rather the soft-costs associated with designing, permitting, and acquiring customers.  When solar is included at the time of construction, it’s dramatically cheaper.  In fact, it’s not just revenue positive from day one -- but a 5-fold return on investment. If you wrap a 3 kW system in a 30 year mortgage, you’ll be paying $12/month for about $67 worth of electricity -- or, enough to drive an EV 1,500 miles.  

Housing is expensive in California.  By making houses that are cheaper to live in, they’ll be more affordable.  

Frankly, it’s time to start building like we plan to stay on this planet awhile. Senator Wiener is showing the way.

Solar for 100% of our communities: Rev. Ralph Williamson, Nevada

Reverend Dr. Ralph Williamson is a community leader and Pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Las Vegas.  He’s been working hard to reverse a devastating 2015 decision that crushed the state’s once-burgeoning rooftop solar industry and to further expand solar access in Nevada. He’s represented his community regularly at hearings in support of the many clean energy policies now under discussion at the Nevada legislature. Foremost among those policies is a new community solar program with strong provisions that would ensure that low-income families have the opportunity to directly participate in and benefit from Nevada’s solar economy. We were proud to recently partner with Reverend Williamson on an energy justice training hosted at his church to help other community stakeholders engage in the policy process themselves and help shape Nevada’s clean energy future.  

We are proud to honor Dr. Williamson with the 2017 Espanola Jackson Solar Justice Award, which celebrates the legacy of a tireless community and environmental justice leader, Dr. Espanola Jackson, who was dedicated to improving health and well-being in their community through solar power. His environmental justice leadership should inspire us all to work toward a just clean energy transition. In giving this award, we honor the critically important role of community-based activism in driving environmental progress.

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100% renewable energy: Chris Lee, Hawaii State Representative

Representative Lee made history when he authored a bill that set Hawaii on course to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2045. Renewable Portfolio Standards are powerful tools for driving clean energy, and Representative Lee helped set the target about as high as your can get.  Since then, Vermont set its goal at 75%, and California has established a 50% standard.  This year, Nevada, New Mexico, and Massachusetts are all considering 80% standards (with Nevada being the most likely to actually pass), and Senator de Leon has introduced legislation that would increase California to 100%. Hawaii is not only leading the way, but also inspiring other states to reach even higher.

We’ve said before that Hawaii is a postcard from the future.  Mahalo to Representative Lee for making it such a helpful, hopeful message.