On this episode of the Good Energy podcast, Solar Energy Industries Association president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper stops in to talk about the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act. SEIA and Hopper were key players in crafting the landmark legislation. She talks about how the ambitious goals she set for the industry in 2020 are already outdated and how the IRA is accelerating the transition to clean energy. But even as the legislation transforms the American economy, the speed of change is causing turbulence, including skilled labor shortages and misinformation. She also talks about how other countries are reacting to the U.S. leadership in renewables.
This time on Good Energy, we’ve got Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. She’s talking about the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, why you should get a job in solar and what you can do to make sure you’re dealing with a reputable. Solar installer this time on good energy. Abigail Ross Hopper is the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the National Trade Organization for America’s solar energy industries. Before joining SEIA, she worked in both state and federal government around energy issues, including offshore energy and business, a stint as general counsel for Maryland’s public utility commission. In other words, she knows how we generate energy and how we get it to the consumers. Welcome to Good Energy, Abby.
Abby Ross Hopper
Daren, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
So let’s start with a hearty congratulations. We just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, something S EIA was really central to shaping. Are you happy with the results?
Abby Ross Hopper
Well, happy anniversary to you too. Happy anniversary to all of us. Yeah, I’m incredibly happy. I’m incredibly happy. Yesterday was the actual day. I got to spend a a portion of it at the White House in a room with about 200 other people that were very happy that it was the one-year anniversary, including the President of the United States. So that was cool. And then I went to a Nats game last night. It was a beautiful night, and we won. So I had a great birthday celebration for the IRA. But yeah, I’m incredibly happy about it. So what has happened so far and and what is still to happen? I remind people every day around here that every challenge we’re having right now is a result of our success, right? Like yes, do I want Treasury to promulgate regulations faster, more clearly and more in line with the position I think we should take? Absolutely! But they’re promulgating regulations, you know, as a result of the passage of the IRA. You know, you can just sort of take that on and on and on. It does not mean we’re not going to address them and work hard on them. And this year, you know, there was no respite for the weary after the IRA passed, but it is important to take a moment and acknowledge. Wow, that actually happened.
Yeah, it’s. I mean, it’s really an astounding piece of legislation, congratulations again and you know that’s a nice nice move. President Joe Biden one day and then me the next day, you know.
Abby Ross Hopper
I keep very good company.
Just this past week the Australian Energy Minister Chris Bowen referred to the IRA as the biggest thing to happen in climate, including the Paris Agreement, which is quite an endorsement, I mean, when we think of the IRA, we think about it in terms of the US, but what, what have you heard about the International community’s response to IRA
Abby Ross Hopper
Yeah. First of all, I think Mr. Bowen is right, it is absolutely the biggest thing that’s happened in the climate space in the world. And what an exciting thing that has happened here and that we’re all a part of it. Right and that we get to be a part of it and continue to be a part of. But we’ve heard a lot of things from the international community. It was sort of a combination of all like, Oh my gosh, you guys really did it. There’s a bit of anxiety as we think about onshoring a lot of our manufacturing facilities and being more intentional about where our product comes from. Obviously, there are some countries that make you know it makes them nervous. If you look at what the EU is doing in terms of trying to figure out how they compete on the manufacturing front versus what the US is offering manufacturing companies, that’s been interesting. But certainly as a market right where other countries are looking to export products to the United States. Obviously, that alone is a spicy topic. But you know I think about countries like India. The Prime Minister was just here meeting with President Biden recently, and they announced a big solar deal. Right? And Vikram, Solar is going to build a US-based manufacturing facility. So the size of our marketplace is growing, as you know, exponentially. And so that’s another reason that we’ve seen a lot of interest from other countries. It doesn’t just mean that we’re going to be importing, but also more direct foreign investment. So it’s nice to be kind of the envy of the world for a minute again, right? We spent a lot of years with people asking us what was happening, what had happened, what was going on in our nation. And so it’s good to be a shining example.
You know, talking about that all of that manufacturing that’s happening here that leads to me this leads to this idea of jobs. I mean of course there’s manufacturing jobs and there’s a huge $100 billion worth of investment. Is that the number?
Abby Ross Hopper
Yeah, that was a report we released on Monday, right, $100 billion.
I think part of my job is because of the IRA, so thank you.
Abby Ross Hopper
Listen, If I hadn’t helped get the IRA passed, I don’t know that I’d have the job I have, right? I might still be somewhere in the solar industry, but perhaps not.
But uh yeah, but. You know, so. It’s not just our jobs, it’s a lot of jobs. I mean, it’s those manufacturing jobs, but also, I mean, you know, one of the concerns around it is installers, installation and electricians, Are we are we facing a labor shortage for solar?
Abby Ross Hopper
Yeah. So I spent a ton of my time, actually not here. I’m in Washington right now. I can actually see the White House out the window that I’m looking at, but I spend most of my time on the road visiting with companies, right, like at their headquarters at their manufacturing facilities with their customers talking about what’s happening in their business, what do they need, how can we be helpful to them. And one of the consistent themes I hear is anxiety around the labor market. Right and again, that is a challenge of our own success, so let’s keep that frame on it and then deal with it. Yeah, I think we do have, I don’t know. I don’t remember if you asked me a labor crisis what? Did you say a labor crisis? Would you say a labor shortage?
Abby Ross Hopper
I wouldn’t say shortage. I think we’re, like, teetering on the verge of a shortage. Right. And I think if we don’t if we aren’t thoughtful and intentional about it, then yes we will. But one of the great pieces of news which isn’t news to you is that people want to work in solar, right? They want to work in clean energy technologies. They see our industry as cutting-edge progressive, the energy the, you know, the industry of the future. And one of the things I think we can do a much better job of is explaining how accessible it is, right? That two-thirds of our jobs do not require a college degree. They certainly require specialized training, many of them, but not necessarily the kind of go to college for four years after high school, kind of degree, and that that opens up the aperture to a whole group of people that may not otherwise see themselves in this industry. So I think that’s an incredible opportunity we have.
And then I think, I mean, I’m not breaking new ground. I try to talk a lot and I’m sure you do too, about the fact that we are part of the energy industry, right? You read my bio at the beginning. Like I’ve worked in oil and gas. I’ve worked with a lot of regulated utilities. I’ve worked with offshore wind like we are part of this pretty significant ecosystem and a huge part of our economy, right?
The energy industry is a significant amount, percentage of our economy. And we’re a piece of it. And so rather than act as sort of this nascent small little, you’ll never hear me use the word alternative energy. You know, we are part of the energy industry. And so pulling people in who maybe, you know they live in a place where the economy is transitioning and maybe there’s less fossil and more clean energy. It’s not as simple as being like, “OK, well, then throw away your hard hat for when you go mine and instead put on a, you know, whatever a hard hat and get up on a roof.” That’s really naive, but in terms of looking at transferability of skills and kind of where the needs are, where the skill sets are, and then how we can provide any training to bridge the gap. I think that’s another source of labor that we have yet to fully realize. So yeah, I think it’s an exciting problem to have, if I can say such a thing. But yeah, we got to pay attention to it, certainly.
So I mean, I think we right, we’re going to need those workers especially. I mean one of the goals that SEIA has outlined in the wake of the Inflation Reduction Act is for 30% of the the country’s energy to come from solar by 2030. Talk about setting that goal and how we’re gonna get there, what it’s going to take.
Abby Ross Hopper
So it’s a funny story, actually. We started this project and I’ll be quick about it, but in 2019 we were getting ready to go to what was then SPI in Salt Lake City. And you know, you always want some catchy thing to announce to talk about at those kind of big shows.
And so we were literally down the hall in our office. And you know, we were sort of turning the corner in 2020s and we decided we literally just decided to name it the solar decade. And then we got into a little bit of a fight because I wanted to name it the solar plus decade and someone else didn’t. So anyway, we resolved it here in the hallway and so we had a goal.
And the first goal was 20% of our energy generation by 2030. We have a research department, and we looked at kind of deployment and trends and pricing and technology and we thought, OK, we like that as a goal. It’s a stretch goal, but it’s we think we can do it. So we announced that in Salt Lake City in 2019, 20% by 2030 and even before the IRA passed, it became very clear to me that we were making so much progress so quickly that we needed to up our goal.
So that happened, I think last year or the year before. And showed when the IRA proposal came and you know it was wrapped in lots of different wrappers and names, but that this sort of idea of a long-term certainty for the industry. And what could that do? And certainly the President announced his goals of greenhouse gas reductions by a certain amount. It tracked along with that 30% goal. So. I’m probably one of the most optimistic people you’re ever going to meet, and so I am intensely optimistic that we will meet that goal. Not just based on optimism, but based on a deep understanding of how the market works and sort of where the consumer demand is, where the technology sits, how the pricing models are going, but also how the policy is is working and kind of the intersection between all of that, that’s that, that’s my that’s my sweet spot. I’m like not an expert on any of them. I’m an expert on how they all interact. I just said that for the first time, but now I know what I do all day. Thank you, Daren.
So, yeah, I think we’re gonna get there.
But like most things in life, unless you plan for it, that’s never gonna happen. The other thing that I’ll say is that, when you think about, oh, my gosh, Abby, we’re, we’re up 4 or 5% now and 30% by 2030, along with that sort of more challenges that come with growing. We’ve talked about workforce, but what do we think about siting? Like, are people going to be super happy if we are citing projects in all of these different places? We think about recycling, right? So, OK, what are we going to do with all the panels at the end-of-life for panels that break during installation? Right, like how? Are we going to have our permitting systems keep up with that level of demand, right?
So there are these growth, challenges of growth. That we need to anticipate and solve before they become barriers to our growth. So that’s a really fun part of my job is to think about what the world can look like, will look like and how we navigate, you know, so that our job as a trade association is to clear out those barriers. So companies like yours and others can just keep building, keep installing and keep making money.
So, speaking of the kind of company like ours, one of the things when you were here in Atlanta and I met you for the first time, you mentioned that SEIA is working to address some of the issues around kind of disreputable solar installers in the field.
So if somebody is looking to install solar–We’d love to have you endorse ADT Solar, of course–but, just in general, what should somebody be looking for when they looking to go solar?
Abby Ross Hopper
Yeah. No, it’s a really important question. It’s obviously a big decision that families make to invest in solar, really take control of their own energy use. I just bought a new home a couple months ago. And you know it’s any anytime, like, even my kids leave their shoes on and they come in the door, I get anxious.
I have so many trees. There’s no sun that comes in. So anyway, I won’t be installing solar probably, but community solar. It’s a big deal. I would. I would recommend that consumers do a couple of things, one of which is go on our website because we have best practices, both including for consumers. We have a kind of explainer. People hear a lot about the tax credits and they may have a sales person in their home or at their front door that says you can get ‘fill in the blank’ percentage back, or you can get no money down or I don’t know what they say, but there’s something on our website that we have put out for consumers that says here’s what the tax credits actually do, and here’s how they work. And here’s what you’re entitled to as a consumer. Here’s the different business models so seia.org and you can find that there.
But there’s also, there are lots of different ways to install solar. You can do it, you can purchase it out right, you can do it through a lease. You can do it through PPA and so on. We have developed model contracts and disclosure agreements. So a consumer can kind of compare. OK. Well, if I buy it, these are all the costs and if I lease it, here’s all the cost. And so I can see instead of it apples to apples comparison. And so that’s on our website too.
We’re translating a lot of these into other languages as well knowing that not everyone speaks the same language in this wonderful country of ours. So those are the two things. Every attorney general’s office has a consumer protection department and you can look and see if there are complaints against a certain solar provider. There are some that, as you know, have unfortunately made quite a name for themselves in that regard. And so those are easy to find online. I would not recommend contracting with them and then just, you know, word of mouth trust your neighbors and your family. But there is some objective information that SEIA has put out and vetted that I think will be helpful to consumers.
Right. Well, Abby Ross Hopper, who is an expert in nothing but is an expert in how it all integrates together and is the President of the Solar Energy Industry Association. Thank you so much for joining us and. You know, we hope to see you next time.
Abby Ross Hopper
Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
That’s it for good energy this month. If you’d like to learn more about solar and what’s going on in the world of clean energy, check out our blog at adtsolar.com for everyone here at good energy. I’m Mallory Whitfield. We’ll see you next time. For now, keep the sunny side up. This podcast is being made available for educational purposes only. The information contained herein should not be construed as an offering of professional advice or an offer to sell or solicitation to buy any products or services. This podcast is the sole property of ADT Solar and may not be reproduced or posted without the prior written consent of ADT. Ruler. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the thoughts or opinions of ADT or our.
Abigail Ross Hopper is the President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade organization for America’s solar energy industries. She oversees all of SEIA’s activities, including government affairs, research, communications, and industry leadership, and is focused on creating a marketplace where solar will constitute a significant percentage of America’s energy generation.
Before joining SEIA, Abby was the Director of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, where she led the agency that oversaw the leasing and development of all offshore energy, from oil and natural gas to offshore wind.
She served formerly as the Director of the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), serving as acting beginning in 2012, and then as Director starting in June 2013. She also served concurrently as Energy Advisor to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley since 2010. In those roles, she had significant engagement with the state’s electric distribution utilities on matters ranging from resiliency and reliability of the grid to multiple mergers of the state’s utilities.
Abby previously spent over two years as Deputy General Counsel with the Maryland Public Service Commission. Before embarking on a career in public service, Abby spent nine years in private practice.
Abby graduated Cum Laude from the University of Maryland School of Law and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Dartmouth College. She is the very proud mom of three children and loves to read, ride her Peloton, do hot yoga and lie on the beach in her (not so free) time.
The IRA is absolutely the biggest thing that’s happened in the climate space in the world.,