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Published on January 29th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor

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How To Write A Hit Piece On The Solar Industry In 6 Steps

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January 29th, 2013 by
 
This is a fun and interesting guest post that I think many of you will love. Check it out:

By Carter Lavin (@CarterLavin)

Hey reporters, having trouble coming up with an idea for a new article? Why don’t you write an attack on the solar industry — media outlets love these! If you want to read that solar is going to destroy the environment or the gridfail miserablybankrupt your town or the country, just pick up the morning paper. While well-informed solar pros regularly and meticulously refute these articles, publications keep running them and rarely even change the arguments.

But seriously, the solar industry is convoluted and relatively esoteric, so when good business reporters write about the business, it’s not a surprise that they don’t get everything correct, but it is a shame. These articles all tend to point out and ignore the same facts — which is why they have all been wrong about the future of solar power. These articles are rarely factually inaccurate, but they often lack context, mislead with incorrect data usage, or do not account for many of the more powerful factors at play.

In fact, these articles are so formulaic, common, and wrong that I decided to save everyone a lot of time and teach you how to make one. So here is how to write a hit piece on the solar industry.

  1. Start off with pointing out some of the industry’s successMaybe you point to the rapidly growing employment in solar, the plummeting costs of systems, or solar’s widening geographic appeal.
     
  2. Transition (often with a weather pun) about dark days ahead, clouds on the horizon, or a storm’s a brewing.
  1. Politics!

DO: Say that the industry is reliant of government support and point out some federal government support the industry receives, like the solar investment tax credit. Then say that it looks like they will not get extended because of whatever the political issue de jure is. Past examples have been the recession, the debt ceiling, the election, and the fiscal “cliff.” 

DO: Ignore that clean energy incentives have been extended on multiple occasions, sometimes before the deadline and sometimes after it has lapsed.

DO: Ignore the huge bipartisan support for clean energy, the solar workers across red and blue districts, and that many Republican Congresspeople (and citizens) who have been vocally supportive of extending clean energy tax credits.

DON’T: Mention that, as the technology continues to improve, the level of support it needs has decreased over time.

DON’T: Mention that these programs are designed to sunset while subsidies for fossil fuel companies are much larger, are literally decades old, and have no sunset provisions. This is particularly important if you are saying the clean energy incentives will not be extended because of some budgetary consideration.

  1. Bankruptcies

DO: Have a Solyndra section! What’s an anti-solar piece without a Solyndra section?

DO: Mention the loan guarantee program, the Congressional investigation, and the bankruptcy.

DON’T: Mention that the loan guarantee program has otherwise been a massive success with much better record than private investors, that there was never any wrongdoing on behalf of the company and that all those investigations were nothing but noise without substance.

DO: Mention that other solar panel manufacturers are going bankrupt.

DO: Ignore that that’s a natural part of how industries grow. Like the car and computer chip industries, solar panel manufacturing started out with hundreds and hundreds of different companies making the products, and is now in a period of consolidation that will just leave a dozen or so really big and really profitable companies standing. While it is messy, it is good for long-term R&D and for consumers.

DON’T: Mention the flip side of the coin — that these companies are going broke because solar panels are so cheap now — which has caused a massive explosion in the solar installation sector. So please ignore SolarCitySungevitySunRun, and the hundreds of small, local installers across the country that are helping people in your neighborhood save money by going solar.

  1. Try to Establish Neutrality

DO: Throw the industry a bone and mention the multi-year trend of improving solar technology and affordability. 

DON’T: Mention that this trend is expected to continue, since that will undermine your article.

  1. Natural Gas

DO: Talk about how “cheap” fossil fuels are. Bring up the recent expansion in natural gas production in the US. This is a good part to throw in some numbers, and maybe go on a tangent about how natural gas is cleaner than coal and how this could split environmentalists. Definitely mention the low price natural gas is selling at because of the increased use of nearly unregulated hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

DO: Talk about how utilities are switching away from coal to natural gas because of low natural gas costs and how that could kill solar. 

DON’T: Suggest that massively increasing the demand for natural gas will raise its price.

DON’T: Mention the unpopularity of fracking among people who live around drilling sites, the fracking bans that exist across the country (and the world), the potential regulation that might limit fracking, the fact that the Federal Government supported the R&D that invented fracking, fracking’s cost on human and environmental health, or that fossil fuels are finite.

Basically, point out all the things that are working against the clean energy and for fossil fuels — and none of the things that are going for clean energy and against fossil fuels. Above all else, never mention that the clean energy industry has thrived in spite of all odds. Even with loud and powerful detractors and the deck fully stacked against them, it has and will keep growing.

Hopefully, knowing this formula will help keep business journalists from writing mediocre pieces about a widely successful industry.

Image Credit: Hand to Forehead via Shutterstock

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  • SolarPod

    Nicely written. It is very difficult to be unbiased and objective in solar.

    On one side corporate ownership thinks solar is “extorting
    money from businesses” and they do not believe in climate repercussions.

    On the other side, money is being doled out to corporations through
    some marginal legality and lobbying interests to protect a few corporations (or interest groups).

    Both sides have great weaknesses. Hence both sides attack the weak points to
    create a stalemate. Neither wish to make a concerted effort to make a change and recognize the weakness.

    Climate repercussion is like buying insurance. We all buy auto insurance. I have auto insurance and have never used it to claim money, yet I am forced to pay.
    I also fortunately have health insurance and do not use it. That does not mean I will not buy auto or health insurance.

    Governments must take responsibility for ensuring they can spend money wisely. In MN they have not proven that to be the case. They have wasted rate and tax payer money in solar. I have also purchased a lot of things for my garage and my partner (I am her husband) has taken tough stand for some of my purchases. I have apologized for those frivolous purchases hence she still has credibility in our marraige.

    My request please correct the weaknesses. Each of the sides have strengths in bringing this important industry to fruition.

    • GwenKillerby

      “Both sides have great weaknesses. ”

      bULL crap. This is like the “Both Dems and Repubs are equally bad” meme. Which is also bull crap.

      The point is, that the anti-renewable side and Repubs are FAR weaker on logic and facts than the other side.
      I really HATE this nonsense of cooing ” there, there, kids, both of you were in the wrong”. That might be great for parenting, but for running a
      country or for dealing with the environment, it doesn’t wash. Don’t just pick side, but study the FACTS, then pick a side.

      Tip: if your facts can easily be refuted, they’re NOT facts, but LIES.

      • A Real Libertarian

        “That might be great for parenting”

        It’s actually pretty bad for parenting, because it teaches kids that adults are useless and will punish them for being victimized.

      • SolarPod

        Thanks.

        I do not disagree at all with your environmental
        passion. I to share the same. My family and I have a very low carbon foot print personally because we believe in the environmental issues. We do rain water harvesting, compost and live in a 100% solar home for the last 4 years.

        Am giving the above just to show, that facts are indeed what I base my writings on and am environmentally conscious.

        There is a very legitimate argument from the opposite side wherein money has been wasted. The reason I say legitimate is also based on facts in Minnesota. I do not know outside of MN. In MN the present government wrote a MN solar bill that favors only two companies. The two companies have the following cumulatively (1) very high price (3times), (2) performance is very bad (please read my below link) and (3) import panels from
        China and call them Made in MN.

        These three are facts which the government funded two
        companies have done and brought a bad name to solar in MN.

        The argument from the side you do not like is “solar is wasted money”. While that blanket statement is incorrect, it legitimizes their statement when money is being doled out inappropriately.

        I do like your passion and commitment to the cause.

        http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21563306.2013.10596279?journalCode=ucgn21#.Us2ZwvRDua8

        http://enforcement.trade.gov/download/factsheets/factsheet_prc-solar-cells-ad-cvd-finals-20121010.pdf

      • Bob_Wallace

        Go easy on that all cap stuff please. We run a reputable house here. No jumping on tables and shouting.

  • TheCroc

    This is hilarious! Just read a (pretty hilarious) Marita Noon article the other day that I think was written with this as a guide!

  • http://twitter.com/EcoHustler EcoHustler
  • lukewarmwater

    so you need to ask do these papers and reporter’s only publish this kind of article because they are so tied to advertising from the oil and gas industries or do they just not get it?

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      i think that they mostly just don’t get it.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Absolutely beautiful piece of work.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1160963069 Jim Jenal

    And all of that w/out ever mentioning the elephant in the room – Climate Change!

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Certainly — never mention that! (Unless you’re going to mention that some hacker illegally stole emails, cherry picked them, and in doing so somehow refuted over a century of scientific research by thousands of scientists.)

  • jburt56

    And be all means do add the annoying phrase “when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.”

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Ah yes, a timeless one. :D

  • Hans

    Very good article. Hopefully it will help people to recognise propaganda.

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