Editor’s Note: This article was not sponsored in any way and the author is not working for the campaign. She’s just a supporter and a writer eager to put her skills to good use.
By Hannah Glenn
With automation and AI replacing manufacturing and other middle-income jobs at increasing rates, Sam sees clean energy (specifically solar) as a burgeoning industry offering potential to offset the crunch.
With experience in both the public and private sectors, Sam has a unique perspective. He’s worked in the U.S. Senate, for President Obama in the Commerce Department, and as Chief of Staff in the House.
Next, he took a role with SolarCity. He built partnerships across the country, “adding diverse voices to the solar conversation,” and worked on community solar policies and general access issues. His role expanded into Tesla’s terrain when they acquired SolarCity in 2016.
Sam sees the potential for cleantech job creation as a linchpin solution for middle-class Americans to live well and provide for their families.
“If you’re earning a good wage, then you’re able to pay for health care, afford a home and save for retirement.”
Although the solar industry is early in its evolution, Sam highlights it as a growing market in need of people to design, manufacture, sell, and install. Though he notes that even solar manufacturing isn’t exempt from automation, he argues there are still ample opportunities in the young industry.
“We need job training for behind-the-keyboard positions, help for workers to develop the skills to be successful, and to work with local governments building out projects that create jobs in the foreseeable future.”
According to Sam, embracing solar and other cleantech to replace disappearing technologies is essential in staying ahead of the narrowing job market.
In 2017, solar employed more than 250,000 people across the country.
During his 8 years in public service, he “saw what was working and what wasn’t working in Congress and a lot of broken aspects in our government.” One of the most glaring disconnects he’s seen is between the innovation economy and public policy.
“In Congress, they talk about wanting to be supportive of all these new industries, but they don’t understand the industries. They’ve never really spoken to the companies, and the companies have their own systems in place.”
He notes that the technology to ramp up clean energy and transform the grid “is there,” but broken politics hold solar and cleantech back from creating new technology and employment.
“Playing by an outdated political playbook” is what Sam sees as the root cause of damaging policies like the solar tariffs, which could harm many solar businesses.
“You also have these net metering sites diminishing across the country, or the auto dealer fights that Tesla has. These fights don’t make a whole lot of sense when you have a technology that’s ready and high consumer demand.”
He cites powerful, outdated interests stifling growth and potential. “Companies should be able to compete. We should allow markets to work. If solar is a low-cost option, you shouldn’t have regulations to make it harder for a solar company to grow because there’s an incumbent interest that they’re a lot closer to.”
Speaking to People in a Relevant Way
Sam’s solution here is elegantly simple: speak to people about what matters to them. Not everyone has the same reasons for supporting solar. Sam saw this in his work for SolarCity, where his partnership work had him meeting with various organizations, from the Sierra Club to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the Christian Coalition.
“In some cases it’s jobs, in some it’s environmental justice, in some it’s climate change, and in some cases it’s just a core desire to make sure we have competition, or national security. So going to a conservative group and pushing the climate change line probably doesn’t get you too far. But talking about innovation, jobs and competition, you’re going to get far.”
Sam believes one needed change is to amplify the support that’s already there for clean energy. “There’s a lot more support than most people realize, and it’s just about finding different ways to talk about it.”
Elevating these voices will force politicians to stop “looking the other way” in fear of losing support from their voting base.
A second change is to elect more people from the cleantech industry to ensure its presence within the government. An ability to have not just public conversations, but side conversations along the lines of “Hey, you should check out this plan” will help dissolve the lack of awareness in the government.
Sam sees President Donald Trump as an embodiment of frustration and people feeling unheard. “There’s this huge gap between Washington and what regular folks are concerned about.”
When asked about the potential of cleantech or solar jobs working on a local level in Orange County, in the state of California, and even on a national scale, Sam is optimistic. Even in the Midwest, where mid-level jobs are disappearing, he sees the potential for growth.
“I think it’s going to happen. Last year, we had roughly 200,000 solar jobs across the country. California is in the high seventy or eighty thousands. These are jobs that are being created and develop good middle-class opportunities. We’re only at roughly 1 percent of the energy portfolio. There’s so much more room for growth.”
You can see Sam’s website and other platform policies here: Sam4Congress.com.
Hannah Glenn is an independent cleantech writer specializing in content, copy, and strategy for renewable energy. When not 10 inches from a computer screen, Hannah hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains, reads National Geographic, and goes to the grocery store. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter.