SEIA names new president, promising an era of solar collaboration
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately quoted new SEIA President Abigail Hopper as saying that she did not want to hear from those who are not SEIA members. Hopper actually said she did want to hear from non-members.
- Abigail Ross Hopper, the former director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, has been named the new president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a trade group for the solar industry. She will assume the position on Tuesday, January 17.
- Hopper replaces Rhone Resch, who stepped down in August of last year after leading the solar industry's top lobbying group for 12 years.
- Hopper told a crowd of reporters at a luncheon yesterday that her top three priorities were ensuring the survival of the federal tax credits for solar, protecting policies like net metering that nurture robust solar markets, and open access to solar for consumers of all income levels.
The year 2016 marked a shift for solar's top lobbying group as longtime President Rhone Resch departed after 12 years at the helm. The solar industry faced setbacks—but also progress—in major policy debates in 2016, including moves away from retail rate net metering in states like Nevada and Hawaii as well as revisions to long-standing PURPA policies that have impacts on small utility-scale solar developers.
Meanwhile, the sector celebrated a hard-won 11th hour extension of the federal investment tax credit for solar at the end of 2015, which had sparked a boom in utility-scale solar as developers rushed to meet what they thought would be the deadline for the tax credit. The tax credit in particular gave renewed life to the utility-scale part of the solar sector, seemingly the most vulnerable to the potential step-down, through 2020.
But discord also grew between utility-scale and distributed generation members within the industry group. Distributed solar installers last year circulated a petition outlining worries that their concerns are not prioritized alongside the considerations of bigger utility-scale developers.
President-elect Donald Trump's victory also injected uncertainty into whether or not solar's upward trajectory will continue. Presented with these issues, Hopper tried to soothe those concerns during the press lunch yesterday.
"I think we are optimistic that the business case for solar is strong," Hopper told the group of reporters yesterday. "I think all politicians understand that, regardless of the letter that follows their name. Our job at SEIA is to tell that story very clearly to how solar can contribute to the electric distribution grids... [and] to jobs."
Mending the strained relationships within the membership is a top priority for Hopper. "How to bridge the gap will be informed by what the members want," she said. "I want to hear from our members... and I want to hear from the folks who haven’t quite chosen to be a member of SEIA yet."
"I spent a lot of time working with utilities," she said. "Building on those relationships and building on that sort of model for bringing folks together is a model that I will follow."
But Hopper doesn't plan on giving up on SEIA's fight to ensuring retail rate net metering policies for rooftop solar stay intact. For many solar companies within SEIA, net metering policies are vital to their value proposition. The loss of net metering or reductions in the rates paid under net metering, solar advocates say, will stifle market growth for the residential sector.
Hopper assured her audience that stance will not change under her leadership.
"What we’re really interested in doing is creating a strong net metering policy and create strong market opportunities for solar companies," she said. "It’s a pretty complex discussion around rate design... with the goal of creating fair, sustainable markets that benefit consumers and benefit solar companies."
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