EnergyWire's Kuckro discusses solar industry's rift over advocacy goals, leadership

This week, the solar industry held its annual Solar Power International conference in Las Vegas. It followed a contentious back-and-forth between utility-scale and rooftop solar advocates. How will this rift affect the future of the industry's leadership and advocacy goals? On today's The Cutting Edge, EnergyWire reporter Rod Kuckro discusses the split within the solar industry and its broader impacts.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. The solar industry held its annual solar power international conference in Las Vegas this week. It comes after a contentious back-and-forth between utility-scale and rooftop solar advocates, and here with all the details on that back-and-forth is EnergyWire's Rod Kuckro. Rod, thanks for coming on the show.

Rod Kuckro: You're welcome, Monica. Nice to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: So it's a dramatic split between rooftop and utility-scale solar advocates. Take us back to when this rift began and sort of how things progressed so quickly.

Rod Kuckro: Well, the rift has been simmering for years, but it really blew into the open Sept. 5 when two well-known solar entrepreneurs, Jigar Shah, who was the founder of SunEdison and now operates a clean energy financing company, and Barry Cinnamon, who's a longtime entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, wrote an open letter to the industry. They did it deliberately before this trade show to sort of expose the fact that, in their eyes, distributed generation companies, those that do rooftop solar, are getting the short end from the board of directors of the Solar Energy Industries Association. It was a shot across the bow, essentially.

Monica Trauzzi: Yeah, so how is the industry reacting? I mean, this was an unusual move by Jigar Shah.

Rod Kuckro: It was very unusual because he's actually a fairly private person and tends to do things behind the scenes. But as one person said, he thinks that he wanted to go public with this to sort of force the issue at a time now when SEIA, the trade group, is without a CEO. They have an interim CEO. Rhone Resch resigned and left a few months ago. And at a time when the board of SEIA's now weighted two-thirds in favor of companies that do rooftop solar for utilities. And the contention of Jigar Shah and Barry Cinnamon is that the action is not at the federal level — they got their tax credit last year — but it's at the state level where there are all these battles over net metering and whether utilities should apply fixed charges on solar owners to make up for the lost revenue.

Monica Trauzzi: So how does this affect SEIA's search for a successor to Rhone Resch?

Rod Kuckro: Well, as Barry Cinnamon told me on the phone yesterday, the ball is now in their governance court. The board has to decide as they look for an executive director what kind of person they want, what the experience level's going to be. They really don't need someone who's good with Congress. They've got what they need from Congress, but they need somebody who's good with the industry to bridge this divide between the utilities and the rooftop providers. They make the point, that is, Shah and Cinnamon, that most of the jobs in the United States in solar are for the rooftop installers. It's a blue-collar industry, and they want to keep those jobs in the states where they're growing.

Monica Trauzzi: So what's next for the conversation? Where does this go from here? And I know you received a lot of reaction to your story that was in EnergyWire.

Rod Kuckro: Well, we'll know a lot, frankly, based on the person that's chosen to succeed Rhone Resch, the departed CEO at SEIA. We'll also get to see whether there'll be any efforts to give the state executive directors of SEIA more authority and actually a role on the board. If not, what we might witness is what's happened before, Monica. You've seen it with other trade associations. There could be a permanent split, and you could have essentially a utility-scale solar industry association and one that represents only distributed generation installers.

Monica Trauzzi: It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Rod Kuckro: Yes, it will.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for joining me.

Rod Kuckro: You're welcome.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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