Rattling The Cage At SEIA

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It’s a funny thing. The more you rattle the cage, the more the caged bird sings. Since I posted a link to Chet Henry’s piece on Red, Green, and Blue last week about the impressive salary pulled down by Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch, my inbox and voicemail have been inundated by messages from SEIA’s extended family — many of whom requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. And based on the common threads of what I’m hearing, there’s a whole lot more to this story that we don’t know.

energy efficiency standards savings $1.1 trillionAs Henry’s blog originally revealed, SEIA paid Resch $786,603 in 2012 as the figurehead for their advocacy apparatus. According to publicly accessible 990 tax returns, that amounts to nearly 7% of the nonprofit organization’s average annual revenue. Compare that to SEIA’s sister organization, the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), where top executive Julia Hamm made $244,344 in 2012 — 175% less than Resch and only 4% of SEPA’s average revenue — or the National Center for Public Policy Research, where CEO compensation of $225,000 is only 2% of average revenue. Additionally, SEIA’s presidential salary increased by 53.8% from 2010 to 2012. (There’s no way for us to know if or how this changed in 2013 until SEIA files its taxes.)

Last week, SEIA Board Chair Arno Harris and Vice Chair Nat Kreamer posted a rebuttal to the recent thread of negative press, in which they recount a number of solar victories brought to you by SEIA. In his post, Harris and Kraemer venture into Never Never Land trying to justify SEIA’s lucrative compensation structure:

SEIA’s board-level compensation committee determines CEO pay through a review process that involves rigorous benchmarking of the CEO’s compensation to the pay of CEOs of similar-sized organizations with similar missions. Compared to the CEOs of trade associations representing traditional energy industries, SEIA’s CEO compensation is low.

This disconnect with reality seems bad enough. But according to what I’m hearing, Harris and Kraemer have refused to let their own board treasurer see documentation of Resch’s full compensation — a move that violates SEIA’s public filings, which state that the treasurer is a member of the compensation committee.

According to former SEIA employees I’ve spoken with, this obfuscation is not news. There’s a veil of secrecy hanging over SEIA, which has become more top-heavy, even as its primary source of revenue — dues from manufacturers — began to dry up when the solar industry shifted to a model focused on financing and installation. In addition to a paycheck, SEIA allegedly provides its president with an expense account and a lush package of performance bonuses, all of which likely take his total compensation into the $1 million range. And I haven’t even mentioned the company Tesla yet…

Meanwhile, SEIA has gone through multiple rounds of layoffs to balance the books, creating an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and disillusionment among the rank-and-file. And how can you blame them? Nonprofit work isn’t easy, and it’s almost never well-compensated. People who choose the nonprofit life usually do so because they believe in a cause greater than themselves, not because they have any delusions about getting rich. I’ve known nonprofit executives who’ve taken 60% pay cuts to ensure the survival of their organization. That’s why it galls me to hear what’s happening at SEIA.

Undoubtedly, solar has made significant gains in recent years, but I have a hard time believing that it’s due to the efforts of any one organization or individual. And really, the quality of Resch’s work isn’t the point of this story. By all accounts, the guy is an affable and effective leader, well-regarded by colleagues and competitors. This is about equity for all of the people who make solar thrive.

The solar industry has enough to worry about with the struggle to move the needle on energy independence. What they don’t need is a nonprofit organization pouring resources into private cars and expense accounts that would be better spent on advocating for their members.

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Peter Allen

is an independent media strategist based in San José, CA. You can read his many musings on Twitter @pjallen2.

Peter Allen has 29 posts and counting. See all posts by Peter Allen

17 thoughts on “Rattling The Cage At SEIA

  • Overpaying corporate CEOs is a national pastime in the US. But it’s only occasionally we see this issue in the non-profit world. Typically when a non-profit starts diverting too much of it’s revenue to compensate employees someone notices and brings it to light. Of course how much is too much? I guess that is up to the donors, members, and maybe the IRS.

    An interesting point is that I was posting links to these articles in the Linkedin SEIA forum and after a few days my posts were deleted. I received a message from Susanna Murley, Director of Digital Media at SEIA, saying “I’m the moderator for SEIA’s Linkedin group and I wanted to let you know that I closed your discussion because it violated our moderation policy.” I guess an open discussion of how SEIA operates goes against their policy.

  • I think you mis-interpreted his salary. His actual paycheck was closer to $566,000. The remainder is mostly deferred pay, and the way IRS rules are set up, he may get or he may not. See rules on 457(f) SERPs.

    While i realize near $600k is still lot, it’s not for trade group advocates and association CEOs, it’s pretty much inline. Perhaps you should look salaries of the people Resch is going up against at Edison Electric Institute, American Gas Association or American Petroleum Institute.

    I want solar to succeed and I think we need strong, talented advocate at the head of SEIA. You may disagree that person should be Resch, but I have no problem with his salary.

    • Talent = Salary is what got the USA into the Greed is Good situation destroying the biosphere. You are so wrong to equate talent with salary. Talent goes with Vocation, not salary. Every spare nickel available needs to be put into the product or lobbying efforts, the way Elon Musk did and does. That’s how it is done; not with the me first crap! Nobody needs that much money to live when they are supposedly fighting big oil and a polluted world future. If you claim he is “indispensable”, I’ll tell you what first year business administration texts say: “Find the indispensable man; and fire him!” I would fire that pig in a microsecond if I could. We do not need more “personality cult” greedball, ego trip, narcissistic, arrogant type CEO people in the Vocation of Renewable Energy, period.

      • @agelbert: Seems like that online business degree has prepared you well. Something they teach in actual business schools or economic courses is what’s called “network effect.” Resch and his staff’s relationship with policy makers increases the probability of positive spillovers to the solar industry in the form of advantageous public policy. Advocacy is not like a business. Lobbyists don’t go to work, turn on machines, and churn out public policy at the lowest marginal cost possible. It’s about relationships with policy makers and their staff. In that regard, Resch is very valuable to the solar industry. You can’t simply substitute him out with a lower paid widget CEO and expect those countless hours of relationship nurturing to transfer over.

        • Yes, of course. You just gave me chapter and verse on “how the world really works”. You brainiacs have done so well with that attitude straight from “Manufacturing consent ideology” haven’t you?

          Damnant quodnon intelligent.

          Civilitas successit barbarum.

          “We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think – in fact they do so.”

          Bertrand Russell

          • Throwing out incorrect applications of Chomsky, a few lines of Googled Latin, and a quote from a British philosopher is not a substitute for making a cognizant point. What’s next, calling me a Nazi? Let’s prove Godwin’s Law correct.

          • My, but you are good at attacking the messenger in hopes of undermining the message, aren’t you?

            Okay Peter, here’s what I humbly believe you don’t get. I will dispense with all sarcasm. This is serious and the pro-profit culture of the USA is destructive to the future of Homo sapiens, period.

            That doesn’t mean we can’t make money off of Renewable Energy.

            Anyone with half a brain and some knowledge of cost accounting, that includes environmental bioremediation costs, understands that fossil fuels were never cheap and renewable energy is the default setting of everything that lives in the biosphere.

            IOW, the issue is not which technology is more “competitive”, “cost effective” or “convincing to the consumer and the government” through an intelligent and planned advocacy of Solar or whatever.

            The Goal of Renewable Energy advocacy is Demand Destruction of Fossil Fuels. Why? because the profits from the sale of fossil fuels are used to buy the government and make laws that corner, stifle and strangle any technology that competes with fossil fuels for the last century or so.

            People want Renewable Energy. All the polls confirm that. An advocacy has to go out there and get renewable energy in more and more hands, not try to influence the bought and paid for big wigs with bragged about “connections” like your hero. You need to shave $500,000 from his salary and write a check for $500 to a thousand people to be used on a small solar panel setup in their homes. They will then start scrimping to try to “get more our of the panel” and want to add more panels!

            That is how you destroy demand for fossil fuels and beat them out of existence, period.

            Here’s a post I just made to illustrate what I hope china is doing and what I know we should be, but aren’t, doing.

            The rapid growth of the Chinese offshore wind power sector requires a rational and clear tariff structure, something the Chinese are serious and methodical about because they are clear eyed about what the future holds if they do not make sure ALL renewable energy technologies achieve the goal, and achieve it SOON, of total demand destruction for fossil fuels. That’s what the USA can’t seem to understand.

            This is NOT about replacing an inferior technology for harvesting energy with a superior and cheaper technology; this is about Homo sapiens survival. The Chinese understand this. If only the USA did. We have, in the USA, the stupidest, most suicidal energy policy on the planet.

            I hope the Chinese pull the plug on the building of coal power plants, decommission built ones and embrace Amory Lovins’ accurate assessment of industrial civilization that with efficiency increases in the energy production technology from power source to consumer, over 90% of the wasted energy can be eliminated and we can power ALL the needs of present industrial civilization with only 10% of what we now use.

            It’s called negawatss and it is real. Why? Because a 5 to 10% efficiency increase (easily achievable with modern technology) in the transmission and/or generation of power has a multiplicative effect when it reaches the consumer. A 5% efficiency increase at the generation source <b?equals over 70% energy saving at the consumer.

            That is why the consumer savings, so far, have had such a small effect on fossil fuel demand. That has to change. Amory Lovins knows how to do that and has been doing it for several years.

            I think China gets it. Our US (s)elected (by the fossil fuel oligarchy) “representatives” don’t.


            Give $500,000 to Amory Lovins and you will see real fossil fuel demand destruction.

          • Making the point that we have a compromised political system that allows corporations to exert undue pressure on our policy making apparatus is a different point and one in which I agree. However, until that system is radically changed, it would be foolish for the solar industry not to play ball by those rules, however skewed they may be to incumbent industries.

            You keep throwing out terms like “demand-destruction.” There isn’t “demand” for oil, coal or gas. There is demand for “power” and “energy” – i.e. what you can do with those resources. People largely don’t think about or care how it is harnessed. Oh sure, they might answer that they support renewables when called up by a pollster, but there is strong social incentive to do that.

            What you are really saying, I think, is that the FULL marginal cost – the private cost plus social cost – needs to be included in the price of a unit of power. To that I totally agree. I believe that a stiff carbon tax is the most efficient way to do this. It eliminates the economic inefficiencies that arise when you subsidize and regulate products and markets, and allows marginal users (i.e. a peak gas plant that runs 10 days a year) to continue running because economic surplus is created in that case, even after accounting for the social cost of carbon. So yea, let’s tax carbon. Until we can get to that point, let’s not sit on our hands and refuse to play ball in the current system just because we find it morally repugnant or because its not the most economically efficient way to achieve results.

          • I hear you and I understand you are trying to make the best of the hand you have been dealt, so to speak. I hope you are right and I am wrong.

            I still believe the application of the negawatts course of action (to increase fossil fuel demand destruction in order to de-empower the fossil fuel industry from driving solar into a box canyon and proceeding to stifle it) is not optional because, after stifling solar through restrictive laws and such low down and dirty tactics, the fossil fuelers scream that solar is not cost effective and a “waste” to “subsidize”. Then they crow about how “great” and “competitive” fossil fuels are.

            They did it to ethanol in the 1930s with Pprohibition (and are trying to do it again now by backing the wrong crop – corn – as a biofuel source).

            They game all these renewable energy technologies. Check out how Reagan turned the lights on Solar.
            How Ronald Reagan turned the lights out on solar power

            These people do not believe in a level energy sources playing field. Their version of a level energy playing field is an alpine slope with them looking down at you with lots of big rocks ready to toss at you if you get good at climbing that slope. If you play their game, you will lose.

            If it weren’t for the severe climate we are beginning to experience due to fossil fuel burning folly, solar would have been crushed just like wind, CSP and geothermal were in the 1980s.

            We need the demand for fossil fuels rug pulled out from under the fossil fuel polluting, mendacious propaganda pushing pigs so they can no longer buy our politicians.

            Peter, I see you are practical fellow. Well, the only practical approach to the fossil fuel pushing criminals is a paradigm shift. That’s not about idealism; it’s about survival.

            Perhaps you do not believe the issue is that serious. I think it is. Taxing carbon is, of course, part of the solution to the overall equation.

            But bear in mind that, historically, punitive measures have never worked on Big Oil and Coal because they buy the politicians. You must destroy their profits or they will destroy you (and, in the time tested path of the criminally insane, suicidally destroy our hope for a viable biosphere). [img]http://www.websmileys.com/sm/violent/sterb050.gif[/img]

  • It’s really hard to know where to begin with this post.  Line for line, I can’t imagine a more wholly inaccurate and confused piece, masquerading as investigative journalism. Clearly belongs on CleanTechnica.  First of all, I am not going to try to justify Rhone Resch’s salary one way or the other.  That is up to the SEIA board to directors to decide.  As a SEIA member, I always find it hilarious that companies paying $500 a year in dues feel they deserve far more in benefits than the companies paying between $30,000-$100,000.  I suppose if this was out of line, we’d be hearing about it from SEIA’s board of directors.  What’s that?  Crickets?  But never mind that (and your assertion based on rumors that SEIA is breaking the law).  You clearly don’t understand the levers of power in the solar energy industry.  SEPA is not SEIA’s sister organization and Julia Hamm does not advocate for policy on the industry’s behalf.  It is a ridiculous comparison to make, but understandable for someone who doesn’t really get how things work.  Also, please please please stop confusing the traditional characterization of “non-profit” with what groups like SEIA does.  They are not a “non-profit” in the sense you think you are trying to talk about.  No trade association is.  As for what SEIA has accomplished?  It’s pretty safe to say there would literally be no solar industry in the U.S. without SEIA.  Where do you think an uncapped, 8-year, 30% investment tax credit came from?  The sky?  AWEA was never able to get a comparable long-term extension of the production tax credit. The long-term ITC that allowed all of these companies to make long-term capital investments in a stable business environment happened because of SEIA…and leading SEIA was Rhone.  It wasn’t Vote Solar.  It wasn’t the Solar Alliance.  It wasn’t any one company.  It was SEIA. This all in spite of the fact that you “have a hard time believing” its due to the efforts of one organization.  Keep rattling that cage, buddy.       

  • Yup. To me this is a non-issue. You’re comparing apples to oranges when you compare members (of which there are many representatives, high and low) to the head of an industry lobbying organization. A more fair comparison would be to the head of any other energy lobbying organization, like the coal industry or even wind. SEIA is paying Rhone not only for his leadership, but also his political knowledge and connections inside and outside the solar industry. He brings together different solar groups with different agendas and tries his best to keep them all together for the same goal: to grow all the sectors in our industry. Anyone else with the same solar knowledge and connections and lobbying experience is going to be paid as much or more. If the board were to replace Resch with a less expensive, less experienced advocate, it would be penny wise, pound foolish. Would have to be someone who knows Congress as well as the solar industry. So, please let’s appreciate SEIA’s accomplishments through Resch’s tenure. As the song goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” and I hope that shortsighted campaigns like this don’t make that happen.

    • Tor, if you are such a big believer in Rhone’s ability, put your money where your mouth is and join SEIA as a member.

      • Steve, I’m not an installer, but I do contribute to SEIA every year, not only in $, but also in solar advocacy support, webinars, and other ways. They’re now updating their membership levels to be more affordable for smaller businesses, and when that change happens, I am joining. If they had individual memberships, I would have joined long ago, just as I’m a member/donator of ASES, Vote Solar, IREC, and The Solar Foundation, and others. Rhone’s not perfect, but once again, this salary issue is nonsense.

        • Tor, I did not say anything about Rhone’s salary and didn’t even imply. You do not have to be an installer to pay dues. SEIA has individual lawyers, engineers, and PR people according to the SEIA member directory.. I am sure if you were to pick up the phone and say I want to be a member, but can’t afford X dollars, one of the fine staffers would strike a deal. Many of us support SEIA through advocacy and other ways, but DC runs on cash so for solar to be successful, we all need to pay our fair share.I look forward to seeing your name on the member directory and will continue to read your weekly column.

  • It is impossible for somebody to get paid 175% less than someone else…unless they are actually paying their employer 175% of the other person’s salary they are being compared to just for the privlage of working for said employer. What you REALLY meant to say is that Julia Hamm made 69% less (since her salary is 31% of Rhone’s).

    • Meant to say that getting paid 175% less would mean that somebody was paying their employer 75% of the salary of the person they are being compared to, not 175%. And here I am getting all picky with the maths…

  • I enjoy stirring the pot as much as anyone so this discussion of CEO pay is interesting, but in the end it’s up to SEIA what they pay their CEO and they have to justify that to their members. As Peter said, trade groups are tiered organizations. Members paying more get more say so it’s really the highest paying manufacturers who control what happens in SEIA. The rest of us, even small members, can hoot about SEIA all we want but we effectively have zero input into how they operate. Does it really matter anyway? As long as SEIA seems to be moving solar along in the right direction then either join up and support them with your dollars or ignore them.

    As for what SEIA does for the industry as a whole, I don’t know. Is SEIA the only reason, or even the major reason, we have a 30% tax credit? I don’t know and probably few others outside of the rooms where the lobbying took place really know. But trade groups exist for one reason, to help their members increase their profits. In SEIA’s case it’s through lobbying for things that help large solar manufacturers and EPCs, and luckily that lines up well with helping all solar businesses.

    SEIA is not an altruistic non-profit here to help the solar industry, it is here to help promote whatever serves the business interests of its major members and that’s exactly what it is being paid to do. Expect no more or less.

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