Guest Blogger Rhone Resch is President and CEO of the Solar Energy Association (SEIA).
The solar industry is wrapping up its most successful year ever. Solar is now the fastest growing energy industry in the U.S., employing nearly 100,000 Americans and generating billions of dollars of economic growth for our economy.
While solar grew in 2010, fossil fuel companies continued to show why their dirty energy is no longer practical to power our nation. In April, at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, the coal industry suffered its worst mining accident in 40 years. Just one month later, the oil industry caused the worst spill in U.S. history, jeopardizing the ecosystem and economy of the entire Gulf region.
The solar industry, on the other hand, is on pace for a record year, installing enough clean, reliable solar energy to power more than 200,000 homes. This growth was highlighted last week when the Obama Administration announced that it would return solar to the White House.
The solar industry’s gains continued with last week’s announcement by the Department of the Interior that it will issue permits allowing the first utility-scale solar project on federal land. This is a significant milestone for solar. Over the last two decades, 74,000 permits have been approved for oil and gas drilling on public lands. And up until last week solar had received zero.
Over the next five years, our industry will see an aggressive expansion in both capacity and revenue. By 2015, the industry aims to install enough new solar electric capacity across the nation every year to power 2 million homes, making solar America’s number one source of newly installed energy capacity.
Think about that – that’s enough new solar capacity to replace 10 coal plants each and every year. We can install so much solar energy that we will eliminate the need for any new coal or nuclear power plants in the U.S. ever again.
This is why the solar industry has gathered this week in Los Angeles for Solar Power International 2010. It is an opportunity for 30,000 solar professionals to make the business deals that will help us reach that 2015 goal.
In many ways, the growth of this conference is reflective of the growth of the industry. During the first SPI in 2004, members of the industry gathered in small meeting rooms. But everyone there spent the next several years working hard and building this industry.
Today, SPI is the fastest growing trade show in the U.S., covering more than a million square feet at the Los Angeles Convention Center. And being here in Los Angeles, it is exciting to see so many new faces, from so many sectors of the economy that have been hit hard by the recession, but have found a new home in the solar industry.
I personally think that is the best part about the growth of our industry – that we’re creating jobs and opportunity across the country. Creating new hope for electricians, salesmen, plumbers, roofers, and so many other professions that have suffered during the recession.
The message that we have brought to the industry is one of unity. The solar industry has to play as a team if it wants to beat back a growing chorus of attacks from the fossil fuel industry, which views (correctly) our growth as a threat to their bottom line.
They are mounting unprecedented attacks on our industry TODAY. From advertising campaigns to direct lobbying attacks in Washington, the fossil fuel industry is trying to shut solar down.
Big Oil companies and other special interests spent $500 million in lobbying and campaign contributions to defeat the clean energy and climate legislation in Congress. Using their resources, they were able to delay and ultimately kill any hope of a national RPS or cap and trade program.
In California, they are doing the same thing. The Big Oil companies, led by the Koch Brothers, are spending millions of dollars supporting Proposition 23, a proposal that would kill AB 32 – the most progressive clean economy legislation in the country. It is my intention to send the fossil fuel lobby a very clear message: “Step aside, and take your hands off of California’s clean energy economy.”
I urge all of you to do the same.
The solar industry is ready for the opportunities ahead. Ready to power 2 million new homes every year. Ready to create hundreds of billions of dollars in economic growth. To put Americans back to work in all 50 states. And we are ready to reduce the pollution causing climate change. I know we are ready because of the commitment I see from the entrepreneurs and small businesspeople who have gathered here in L.A. for Solar Power International and who are growing this industry all across the country, every single day. It is going to be an exciting week showcasing the work they are doing.