Solar industry's Resch discusses goals, expectations for Copenhagen meeting

Next week, as diplomats head to Copenhagen to continue negotiations on a new international climate treaty, trade group representatives will also be in attendance, making the case for greater incentives for the development of their technologies. During today's OnPoint, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, explains the role the solar industry will play at the Copenhagen meeting. He discusses recent partnerships between the United States, China and India on clean energy development. Resch also talks about the Senate's climate and energy debate.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Rhone, thanks for coming back on the show.

Rhone Resch: My pleasure, Monica, thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Rhone, you'll be heading to Copenhagen later this month for the next round of international climate talks. What will the solar industry's role be at the negotiations and what influence are you hoping to have at this meeting?

Rhone Resch: Well, what's interesting is this is the first time that the solar industry has gone to any of the conference of parties meetings and we're not only to showing up as SEIA, the national association of the United States, we're actually bringing 24 different country's associations together and we're going to Copenhagen saying, basically, that we are an industry that can do more and can do it sooner. So, really echoing what the scientists are saying to the political leaders.

Monica Trauzzi: How quickly do you think you can get solar online and how broadly?

Rhone Resch: So, our primary message is to show that we can be a technology that can reduce emissions in the near term and our message is going to be very clear, that we can generate 12 percent of total global electricity by 2020 and displace in that part almost 6 to 7 percent of all CO2 emissions within that short timeframe. But the beautiful thing here, Monica, that we're really trying to show, is we can do it while growing the economy. That we're going to create millions of jobs around the world while reducing carbon emissions. That's a unique message at the conference of party meetings.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what are you looking for specifically in the new agreement that would help you reach that goal?

Rhone Resch: What we're looking for is a very clear signal that policies and measures are going to be part of what an agreement looks like and, specifically, what we are advocating as the solar industry is that we need uniform policies around the world. That we can't have a patchwork between Germany and Spain, that we can't have different policies between states across the United States and then even Canada. And instead, what we're asking for are uniform policies that we know will work and will grow the use of solar around the world. And, specifically, we are going to be promoting this Solar Bill of Rights, which are eight separate provisions that are going to increase the use of solar energy around the world.

Monica Trauzzi: What are your expectations for the meeting in terms of the outcome and how far it will actually go?

Rhone Resch: Well, I think we need to be very realistic, which is that this is the first time you're really having China, United States, and India coming in to the table with positions. So, I think our expectation is really to make sure that at least solar has a chance to be recognized as a technology that can substantially reduce our carbon emissions. I think what it's going to lead into though is an agreement that will probably take place not necessarily in Copenhagen, but in the springtime and leading into COP 16. At that time, our goal is to make sure that all countries are adopting the Solar Bill of Rights to make sure that solar is part of their carbon reduction strategy.

Monica Trauzzi: The U.S. recently announced a green partnership with India. We also announced one with China earlier this month. Included in that is a joint research operation for the development and deployment of clean energy technologies. How important are agreements like this to the U.S.'s competitiveness on the international scale when it comes to research and development of these technologies?

Rhone Resch: You know, I think it's critical to bring these countries into the discussions around how do we reduce carbon emissions and to show that it's not just going to be the advanced technology countries like the United States and Germany to get to play, but it's going to be manufacturing really around the world and countries will be able to benefit economically. So bringing India to the table is critical. They're already a major manufacturer of solar and photovoltaics around the world, but also bringing China to the table is also equally as important and not just in the sense that they are going to do the manufacturing of U.S. technology, but rather that we have global companies that will manufacture where the markets are being developed. So those next generations of advanced solar technologies will be manufactured both in China as well as in the United States. To these partnerships are really important, in my opinion, in the long run to make sure that we're developing advanced technologies and that they're manufactured throughout the world.

Monica Trauzzi: Energy Secretary Chu has said that the U.S. is lagging in its efforts on R&D. Is the U.S. competitive at this point?

Rhone Resch: Well, it's important to remember that the United States invented solar energy. We invented photovoltaics about 54 years ago. We were the number one manufacturer of solar just eight years ago. Today we've dropped to fourth place and, unfortunately, we're seeing more and more companies opening up factories overseas. But the reality is the Obama administration has substantially ramped up investment into R&D. You see new programs, not only at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, but at universities around the country and you're starting to see kind of the next generation of grad students who will want to get into energy and material sciences focusing on solar energy, which is exciting. So you're creating a whole new generation, a whole new brain trust if you will, focus on advanced solar technologies. In the long run, I think this will have a very large pay back to our economy. It's a smart investment for the administration to make at this point.

Monica Trauzzi: And recently two members of the Senate Finance Committee introduced legislation that would broaden existing solar tax credits and the legislation is really seeking to sort of subsidize domestic manufacturing. There are always questions about why the U.S. government should continue to subsidize an industry like the solar energy industry. So many incentives have already been put in place, why should the solar industry continue to get money from the government?

Rhone Resch: Well, there's an interesting fact and that is the solar industry lags far behind the fossil industry and most of the other renewable energy industries, with respect to actually receiving support. It wasn't really until the 2005 energy bill that you created any tax incentives for solar energy. And what this bill does is it creates jobs here in the United States and this is absolutely critical. When you look at what incentives are offered by Germany, by Malaysia, by China, we can't compete here in the U.S. There is no federal support for new manufacturing and that's a shame. When you look at the states that are going to benefit most by the growth of the solar industry it's Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Indiana; those states that have strong manufacturing bases but have gone through a major downturn with both the slide in the economy as well as traditional manufacturing moving overseas. We can bring those jobs back here to the United States and I think that's something that everybody would support and it's not necessarily just for the solar industry, it can be done for all kind of green technologies, wind, solar, geothermal, etc., but what's critical is that we create a level playing field for companies to build their factories here in the United States compared to going overseas to China or Malaysia.

Monica Trauzzi: The Senate climate bill faces an uphill battle to get those 60 votes that it needs. If the bill does not pass, what will the direct impacts be on your industry?

Rhone Resch: Well, I think what's important is that in the long run we have a very clear signal on the price of carbon emissions and that having a discussion in the Senate and having a bill passed out of the House has already alerted the utility industry, has already alerted manufacturers that this is the direction we're heading. If it doesn't pass now, it will pass in two years. But we're very optimistic that a bill can be crafted, a bipartisan bill can be crafted that is going to pass the Senate and that will be worked out with the house and will be signed into law in the next year. What's absolutely critical in our opinion though is that you keep the climate provisions; you keep the carbon cap-and-trade provisions together with the energy provisions, because they're intrinsically linked. You cannot separate the two apart and so, in the long run, we think it's critical that the energy bill go forward with both of those provisions in place.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, so you will not be pushing the Senate to just take up those energy provisions?

Rhone Resch: Absolutely not, no. Although there are some strong support for solar in just the energy provisions, we think it's critical that the two go hand in hand.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Rhone Resch: My pleasure, thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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