Solar Isn’t Just For Hippies Anymore

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And, oh by the way, hasn’t been for a long time.

By Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar

Psst…. hey you. Did you hear? Pass it on: Solar isn’t just for hippies anymore. Conservatives are learning to love it, too.

Of course, if you’ve been anywhere but hiding under a rock, you knew this already. Solar energy has expanded exponentially over the past 7 years, and everyone (including conservatives) is finding more reasons to get on board. Whether it’s escaping government-sponsored monopolist utilities, protecting property rights, or simply saving money, conservatives are learning to stop worrying and love solar energy — and that bodes well for the future of the industry as it enters a critical legislative phase at the national level.

How We Got Here

Originally, when few people fully understood the detrimental effects oil and coal were having on the earth and human health, solar was indeed a niche market. Installation was expensive, production was inefficient, and it really only benefited those wealthy enough to afford it. The perception in the general public was that solar was something wealthy environmental do-gooders installed, but that it wasn’t really something to which the majority of people could — or should — aspire.

But in the past 7 years, the price to install solar has dropped considerably, and more people than ever are adding solar to their rooftops. Utilities across the country are building solar farms cheaply to harvest the energy for their customers. And businesses are discovering the distinct advantages of becoming their own power suppliers.

As solar became more viable, more conservatives recognized the importance of solar as an energy source of the future — and they have joined forces with advocates on the other side to further the industry’s development.

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Where We Are

The conservatives working for solar’s cause are not obscure activists that no one knows. Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the 1964 Republican presidential candidate of the same name and (most importantly) the widely recognized father of the modern conservative movement, founded TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed). According to its website:

Monopoly utilities want to extinguish the independent rooftop solar market in America to protect their socialist control of how we get our electricity. They have engaged in class warfare and tried to sabotage net metering, a billing method that gives individual homeowners fair credit for power produced on their own rooftops. They would like to deny us Americans energy choice and maintain their monopoly status.

To prevent that from happening, Goldwater’s group (which now operates in Arizona, Utah, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana) fights for fair solar policy.

If you’ve been to any solar industry conference recently, you’ve probably bumped into Debbie Dooley, a Tea Party founder and creator of the Green Tea Coalition, a collaboration between some Tea Party groups and environmental groups. They agree on little else, but what they do agree on is that the future of energy in the United States is solar. And this surprising alliance recently produced pro-solar-expansion legislation that passed unanimously in a Georgia legislature dominated by conservative Republicans in both houses.

And now even more conservatives are joining the fight, from former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott to the Christian Coalition to Jay Faison, a North Carolina billionaire who has created the ClearPath Foundation to educate the public about climate change and invest in solar power.

So what is fueling this seemingly sudden surge of conservative support for the solar industry, long dismissed by many as a pipe-dream of “latte-drinking liberals?”

What Unites Us

Three issues unite these groups and lead them to fight for solar despite the enormous chasm that separates them from their allies on other issues:

  • Climate change: Contrary to popular perception, many in the conservative movement understand the threat global climate change poses to the planet, and they realize if the planet is destroyed, there will be no traditions for them to “conserve.” They like living on this earth as much as the next person, so they are committed to doing what they can to keep it habitable.
  • Electric Individualism: The electricity-distribution network in the United States developed during a vastly different time in this nation’s history. Central utilities, regulated by individual states, agreed to provide electricity to even the most far-flung areas of the country in return for profit guarantees from state governments. Utilities are government-controlled monopolies that dictate what ratepayers will pay for electricity. Conservatives are, historically and currently, uncomfortable when governmental entities explicitly control what people can do on their own properties, and solar power allows electric ratepayers to untangle themselves from the government by producing their own energy.
  • Utility monopolies: As adherents of the free-market principles first outlined in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in 1776, there is nothing conservatives hate more than monopolies — and utilities are the most persistent monopolies that still exist in the United States. They have long called for solar to compete on a level playing field against traditional fuel sources, but have now realized the field is tilted in the direction of utilities that rely on government subsidies to use outdated fossil-fuel technologies. Conservatives want to end them.

Solar Provides Common Ground

Thanks to the hard work and coalition-building by groups like TUSK, the Green Tea Coalition, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a consensus is growing among liberals and conservatives that solar energy will be how the United States fuels its future. And there’s a growing sense in Congress that crucial solar-specific legislation — including a commence-construct clause and renewal of the investment tax credit (ITC) — could pass soon.

With so many prominent Republicans on board, the chances of it moving through a fractured House Republican majority is within reach — so it’s time to reach out to non-traditional solar allies and bring this solar victory home.

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