From the moment affordable residential solar power systems gave homeowners the ability to generate their own power, and not have to rely entirely on local utilities, there has been tension between solar cell manufacturers, energy utilities, and homeowners. Energy producers push for higher electricity prices and lower NEM rates, alleging that solar power system owners benefit from the grid without adequately covering the cost of operating it, while homeowners accuse utilities of price gouging. Outside forces sometimes impose upon these delicate relationships as well, such as when the federal government imposed costly tariffs on imported solar panels.
There are innumerable advocacy organizations lobbying on behalf of energy producers and fossil fuel companies. But who speaks for consumers who wish to take the greatest possible advantage of their investment in solar power, without unfair imposition from political or commercial interests?
This lack of representation is an issue that has weighed on the minds of players in the solar power industry for quite some time. After all, their continued future depends upon continued consumer demand. If, for instance, government interests acting on behalf of the fossil fuel industry took actions that increased the cost of solar power, or reduced the financial benefits, demand for solar would die.
The groundwork for the nation’s first solar consumer advocacy group was laid in the back room of a Southern California restaurant.
Directors of the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA), an advocacy group which promotes the use of clean technologies, have long recognized the need to create a formalized organization which could act as a mouthpiece for solar consumers. After two years of concerted effort, CALSSA had managed to cobble together the organization Solar CitiSuns, which boasted a membership of 800 people. But the group needed more traction.
They started by hiring David Rosenfeld, a political organizer who has spent more than two decades working the Public Interest Network, MoveOn, OSPIRG, and other advocacy funds. With Rosenfeld on board, the group was able to catch the attention of such industry movers and shakers as Tom Starrs, the chair of the Solar Energy Industries Association, and Billy Parish, the CEO and co-founder of Mosaic, the country’s largest residential solar lender.
In an ad-hoc strategy meeting in the back room of a steak house in Anaheim in early 2018, David Rosenfeld and various industry representatives came together to identify a path forward for the organization. Solar CitiSuns was then rechristened as the Solar Rights Alliance, or SRA.
SRA’s members occupy the full breadth of the political spectrum, but agree on the importance of solar energy.
The SRA has no political ideology—Democrats, Republicans, and the independently minded all count themselves as members—save for the goal of establishing a Solar Bill of Rights, which would guarantee:
- The right to generate solar energy, free from obstruction by utility companies.
- The right to connect solar energy systems to the energy grid as cheaply as possible, and without delay.
- To get a fair price for energy sent to the grid.
While these might seem like minor requests, power companies have been locked in bitter battles with consumer advocates and the solar industry for years:
- In 2016, the utility industry donated more than $21 million to ballot initiatives seeking to ban the third-party sale or leasing of solar panels.
- Utility companies in South Carolina spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to block a bill that would have lifted the cap on the number of homeowners who could take advantage of net energy metering.
- Energy companies in Florida designed and backed Amendment One, a state ballot initiative which appeared to increase public access to solar power, but which was actually designed to mislead voters into price-gouging solar users.
- Many states, including California, are in the process of phasing out net metering, the agreement which financially compensates solar power system owners when they generate energy for the local utility grid.
These challenges from the energy industry are why the SRA is pushing back. Within six months of Rosenfeld taking control of the SRA in March 2018, its membership increased from 800 members to 7,000.
The group’s first opportunity to flex its collective muscle came in September 2018, when it became apparent that the governor of California, Jerry Brown, was hesitating to sign SB 700, a bill passed by the legislature that would extend the lifespan of the Self-Generation Incentive Program. The SGIP offers rebates to help cover the construction of distributed energy production and storage systems. The SRA alerted its members, and 500 of them contacted the governor’s office. That same week, the bill was signed into law, ensuring funding for $800 million in subsidies.
But the SRA is still small, especially when you consider that more than 700,000 Californians have invested in solar energy systems. The group’s short-to-midterm goal is to grow membership to 70,000 people, or 10% of homeowners in California with solar power systems.
We encourage you to visit the Solar Rights Alliance website to learn more about solar power, and your rights as a solar power system owner. Their blog is updated regularly, with answers to common questions asked by owners, developments in the industry, issues of concern for system owners, and more. If the SRA’s goals match your own, then consider joining the organization, or even supporting their mission. If nothing else, we hope that you’ll find that they are a great resource.