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Published on May 20th, 2014 | by Peter Allen


Rattling The Cage At SEIA

May 20th, 2014 by  

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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About the Author

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

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