“You’re letting the secret out,” Vice President Joe Biden told a packed room at Solar Power International this week. As he rattled off the usual impressive solar statistics, he made a point to acknowledge that the audience was aware of everything he was saying — but that the general public is not. “Because of you,” he said, “we’re on the cusp of something huge here. But a lot of folks don’t realize it.”
The solar industry’s successes
While giving due credit to the industry itself, he said, “Since the President and I took office — not because of us, but I hope we helped — solar power generation has increased 20-fold, and it’s exponentially increasing more now. Solar jobs have grown by more than 86% — 174,000 jobs now, put this in perspective, in California that’s more people that work in Google, Apple, Twitter combined … and also Facebook, if I’m not mistaken. And that’s going to grow by the end of this year to 210,000 jobs, powering 4.6 million homes. Solar installations have increased nearly 50% per year since 2008, and will go from around 20,000 installations in 2009 to 1 million installations next year.”
As he continued, noting that the cost of solar power is at an all-time low, the Vice President added, “Now I know you know all this, the but the press is here — and it’s important to let the secret out.”
Biden highlighted the many benefits of solar, including good jobs and public health improvements. He also spoke about the further advances expected from the President’s Climate Action Plan.
Challenges to solar, and the subsidy question
Biden noted that our clean-energy and climate goals are within reach, but face challenges from the likes of the Koch brothers — “fine guys as I understand it” — and other special-interest groups.
He made it clear where he stands on these challenges: “The idea that we don’t think renewables are so critical to the future of this country and we won’t do everything to grow this industry is absolutely absurd. It really is absurd.” Future generations, he noted, will wonder what we were debating about.
The Vice President also emphasized that the push for renewables is not about a government mandate. “We want to give every American a choice — an energy choice. This is the market working. It’s the market, not the government making the choice,” he said.
You can’t have a major speech at a major solar conference without mentioning the Investment Tax Credit. Biden fully supports extending the tax credit. We were glad he brought up fossil-fuel subsidies as an important part of that discussion. While some in the industry are saying we’re close to not needing the tax credit, the century-old oil industry still gets theirs. We need to talk more about leveling the playing field.
Biden did just that. He noted that while at one point it made sense to subsidize the oil industry, the subsidy is just not needed now. “Anybody having a problem getting oil out of the ground today? Oil doesn’t need that tax credit,” he said, referring to the $5 billion that industry gets. “If we just took half of that and applied it to renewables as a tax credit, that would cover the total cost and there’d be about $2.5 billion left. We could reduce the deficit.” He added, ‘Solar could quadruple by 2022 if we extend tax credits.”
The future of solar
The fact that Biden was even at SPI giving a speech shows that the Obama Administration is taking solar seriously.
Biden announced a new set of White House executive actions to boost clean energy and solar. The initiatives, totaling $120 million, will provide support to states as they work toward Clean Power Plan targets.
The Vice President emphasized the many good reasons to invest in solar: “There’s a climate change argument, there’s a national security argument, there’s an economic argument — but as you’re going to hear it from the Pope, there’s also a moral argument.” He went on to detail the ways “reality is intruding” and showing us how urgently we need to stop climate change, which he called “an existential threat.” He noted that we’ve got a long way to go, but added, “I’m not talking about leaving our children a better future. What’s at stake is whether we have a future at all…. If we move now, we can cauterize this wound — but we have to move fast.”
Ending his speech on a positive note, Biden said that when meeting with Chinese leaders, he had summed up our country with one word: “Possibilities.” It’s because of that American character, coupled with strong public support for renewables, technical know-how, and an agile economic system, he said, that we can achieve our goals.
Solar does have a lot going for it, so let’s hope Biden is right. As Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said when he introduced the Vice President, “Solar is affordable. Solar is reliable. Solar is clean. And solar is now.”
Check out this great video from SEIA to see how you can support solar and fight to extend the ITC.