Rooftop Solar is More Important Than Ever

The work that the solar industry does every day, installing solar energy systems on rooftops, at schools, in backyards, over parking lots, and on farms is more important than ever before. And the reason is not what you may think.

Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that President-elect Donald Trump has put a former Koch brother’s lobbyist, Thomas Pyle, in the position of leading the transition team at the Department of Energy. 

This can’t be good news for renewable energy. As the Times reports, “(f)or years, Pyle has led a coordinated national assault on renewable power. Now, in his role with the Trump transition, Pyle’s vision will shape the new direction of a federal agency that has been a crucial partner to California and like-minded states in their embrace of solar, wind and geothermal power.”

The reason “rooftop solar” is more important than ever is not because we need it to combat climate change. And it isn’t because we need it to create jobs. Though both things are quite true. The reason is about environmental populism. 

“Rooftop solar” is not just about meeting clean energy goals. It isn’t just about solving climate change. It is about building a constituency of voters who either have their own solar system, know someone who has one, or see one on their drive to work every day. 

When you have that level of familiarity with a new technology, it becomes very difficult for the opposition to paint it in a negative light. 

This is, unfortunately, not the same for large-scale renewable power plants. While a powerful and increasingly cheap source of pollution-free electricity, these plants are sitting ducks when it comes to Koch brothers-style attacks. This is because these projects are typically far away from population centers giving the average voter zero direct experience with them. Mr. Pyle can make negative claims about the American taxpayer wasting money on big solar projects and the claims will stick. But try that same trick with rooftop solar, and it will be much harder. 

That’s not to say our opponents won’t try. Nor is it to suggest that the solar industry can sit back and relax as attacks on clean energy unfold in Washington D.C. But it is to point out that every solar panel installed today, from Bakersfield to Baltimore, won over another family of voters in support of solar energy. Multiply that out over a million times and across the country and you start to see the power of rooftop solar in creating co-investors in a clean energy future. 

Bernadette Del Chiaro
Executive Director, CALSEIA