Washington State Wins with Solar Jobs Passage. Jobs & Clean Energy Leadership Alive and Well in Washington State.
There was a lot of chaos happening when it came to passing the Washington state budget– and it was down to the wire –but at the end of the day Washington state legislators showed incredible leadership by passing the Solar Jobs bill which was needed to ensure that Washington’s solar industry would not only survive but thrive.
This win gives renewed opportunity to the 161 solar-related business that employ nearly 4,000 folks. It also sets in motion a myriad of far-reaching impacts including: some 3,000 new jobs likely to come aboard in the near term, along with the promise of billions of dollars to flow into local and state economies; lessening the barrier for more commercial businesses, low-income and general residences to adopt solar; reducing the administrative burden for utilities; and create a much bigger platform to reduce Washington state’s carbon pollution.
It’s no wonder that across the state there’s a lot of celebrating going on.
Businesses including credit unions and banks, electrical workers, entrepreneurs and others are reveling in the future job, business and growth opportunities. Major utilities are embracing an approach that reduces their administrative burden. Organizations including Audubon and Environment Washington are happy that this policy allows our state to reduce climate pollution and the health effects caused by it.
WBCA is very pleased by the bill’s passage - because this policy supports our twin focuses – business and climate. The 250 Washington businesses that support our climate declaration know that climate impacts will have terrible business impacts on our state and that a clean energy economy must be our way forward. We decided that we would support Washington state’s solar industry through education. To that end, we developed a number of education pieces including: a letter of support about Washington state’s solar industry, several short videos about why the solar industry matters; an infographic and other content. We were pleased that some of our members reached out to legislators, as well.
It is gratifying that the legislature listened to a broad spectrum of constituents and also recognized the bottom line - at a time when family wage jobs are becoming harder to come by solar jobs matter. The average solar worker makes $50,000 and these jobs are found both East and West of the mountains – from Seattle to Vancouver and Yakima to Richmond. This industry is also spurring new investments in innovation, leading to serious export opportunities.
Legislators also recognized, like many other states that have embraced the solar industry, that a new policy provides certainty to industry that will bring huge amplifier benefits to the state. Solar offers an investment that pays off for every buyer while supporting local economics; residential and commercial customers save money ($75,000 over the lifetime for a medium-sized residential system) that can used on other local purchases that drive new sales tax revenue for city and county governments across the state. A Western Washington University study found that every $1 in solar in WA yields $16-$20 in local economic activity. A whopping $86.2 million (in the form of federal tax credits) are brought into the state.
Legislators were also clear that the solar industry offers a pre-emptive strategy against building new expensive energy projects; utilities are not under pressure to add, build, and source more expensive energy generation plants.
There’s more – by embracing a new solar policy, the legislature is also reducing barriers for Washington state buyers to embrace electric vehicles; Volvo’s recent announcement to go all electric or hybrid within two years reinforces that electric vehicles are the future and bodes well for our state, given that nearly half our overall carbon pollution footprint is because of transportation. As the state transitions to electric vehicles, we could actually keep $2 billion a year in our area by 2035, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a utility industry group, through home-grown solar generation rather than buying gasoline purchased from elsewhere.
Finally, legislators are helping reduce carbon pollution that creates additional environmental and health problems. Existing solar projects have already helped our state avoid carbon pollution, according to a Western Washington University study. The new policy will help avoid air and water pollution from coal and natural gas that contribute to diseases like cancer, heart attacks, neurological damage, and breathing problems like asthma.
In a nutshell the new solar jobs policy will:
Make no mistake, this solar jobs bill passage is what real jobs and climate leadership looks like.
While Washington state has been in the national spotlight for its strength on environmental and carbon pollution leadership, after the Trump Administration pulled out of Paris Accord, passing legislation like the Solar Jobs bill makes ideas real. This legislation will reduce carbon pollution, keep existing jobs and create new jobs and seed incredible new opportunities. We applaud the legislature for turning a clean jobs bill idea into reality - it is exactly what Washington state needs both economically and as it continues to model to the nation and the world, how jobs and climate must go hand-in-hand.
To learn more, visit SolarStrongWA.org or a recent summary in the Seattle Times.
Lisa McCrummen is a strategic communications consultant and on the WBCA leadership team.
Ten years ago, while I was leading climate strategy at Nike we invited Bill Bradbury, Oregon's then Secretary of State, to be a keynote a climate event. Bill had recently graduated from the Climate Reality Project, former US Vice President Al Gore's initiative to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis. 50 individuals, including Christiana Figures, made up this 1st cohort and Bill was on a mission to share this message with as many groups as possible .
Last week I finally signed up for the 3 day training in Seattle and joined Al Gore and hundreds of others who care about climate as a member of the 35th cohort to commit to becoming Climate Reality Leaders. While I’ve been working on climate change for over two decades this gathering freshened my personal focus and brought in the business perspective from WBCA as one of the local supporting partners.
The scale and quality of this event was, in my view, unparalleled, and I would recommend the training to anyone, from business leaders to grassroots activists, novice to seasoned, youth to elder. The level of detail in the presentations is stunning and the post event resources and support enabled by the Climate Reality Hub is really well executed.
Here are some hi- lights for me by the numbers:
800: delegates in attendance
30: countries represented
400: delegates from Washington state
12,500: number now making up the global Climate Reality Leadership Corps after the Seattle training
130: countries where Climate Reality Leaders are working
35: number of Climate Reality Project Trainings
0: cost of training for delegates
60: % of women delegates, the first time women were in the majority
40: Climate Reality Mentors who guided groups of participants over the three days
2 hrs: The duration of Al Gore's presentation, The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions.
10 minutes: The first time a 10 minute version of Al Gore's presentation is available to the general public. Called Truth in Ten it can be found here
7: My cohort from San Juan County that included 4 ninth grade girls and their science teacher
During the three days of the training there were presentations and speeches from policy leaders like Governor Inslee to grassroots activists and tribal leaders, all of whom had very compelling personal stories. Three separate panel sessions with experts focused on science, health and coalition building, the latter including Brenna Davis, chair of WBCA. Breakout sessions focused on turning awareness to action and helped participants with skills building around communications, presenting and contacting influencers. For the very first time there was an afternoon of direct local action incorporated into the program. This one focused on the Carbon Free PSE campaign, including options to gather signatures for a petition, participate in a town hall meeting with city, county and state officials, or write letters , prepare public testimony and engage deploy social media. In between sessions a group of WBCA members were making their voices heard in support of the WA Solar Jobs Bill and I'm happy to say that it finally passed.
The most poignant moment of the entire event for me was reuniting with Bill Bradbury, who was among the 800 delegates, and witnessing him receive the Green Ring Award for his services to the Climate Reality Project which includes giving over 500 presentations.
On July 28th Al Gore's new movie An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is released in new York and LA. We watched the trailer for the film, which can be found here, and were the first to see the new lyric video, by One Republic. I'm guessing there wasn't a dry eye in the house, and certainly not mine. Less than a week later the video has had over 1.3 million views.
Sarah Severn is the Strategic Advisor and Co-ordinator of Washington Business for Climate Action
Lisa McCrummen is a strategic communications consultant and WBCA board member. Solar: Cheaper, Stronger, Faster – if the Legislature will provide certainty.
The solar industry is truly one of the unsung clean energy economic heroes in our state.
While most people have seen the nearly daily “good news” solar stories, and are aware how quickly the industry has grown and how pervasive its energy disruption has been– few recognize that Washington’s solar industry’s future is at a crossroads. The 161 solar-related companies in our state believe the future of this robust industry will be in big trouble unless the Washington legislature acts quickly to clarify the “rules of road” for solar.
Washington’s solar industry took off in 2006, when the legislature created the Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Incentive Payment Program. The program laid a foundation for an in-state solar manufacturing sector, and also provided a framework for Washington residents to put solar power to work on homes, commercial buildings, and community facilities.
The program has been even more successful than hoped. So far, it’s deployed almost 85 Megawatts in solar production, helping more than 13,000 homes and businesses convert to solar.
To do so, the solar industry employs a lot of people - some 3,700 people work in solar manufacturing, system design and installation jobs in Washington. At a time when family wage jobs are becoming harder to come by, the fact that the average solar worker makes $50,000 matters a lot. It also matters that these jobs are found both East and West of the mountains – from Seattle to Vancouver and Yakima to Richmond. It also is spurring new investments in innovation, leading to serious export opportunities already.
And the economics go way beyond just the jobs. The very act of solar is an economic and environmental amplifier.
First, it’s an investment that pays off for every buyer; helping residential and commercial customers save money ($75,000 over the lifetime for a medium-sized residential system). This money can be used on other local purchases that drive new sales tax revenue for city and county governments across the state. Additionally: A Western Washington University study found that every $1 in solar in WA yields $16-$20 in local economic activity. A whopping $86.2 million (in the form of federal tax credits) are brought into the state. There’s more: It also helps keep expensive energy projects at bay; utilities are not under pressure to add, build, and source more expensive energy generation plants.
The future ‘economic amplifier’ is even more astounding: As the state transitions to electric vehicles, we could actually keep $2 billion a year in our area by 2035, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a utility industry group, through home-grown solar generation rather than buying gasoline purchased from elsewhere.
Clearly Washington state has been in the national spotlight, after the Trump Administration pulled out of Paris Accord, for its strength on environmental and carbon emissions leadership. It seems obvious that solar ought to be part of this platform. Solar clearly reduces carbon emissions and reduces other pollutants that create additional environmental and health problems. Our state has already avoided carbon emissions thanks to existing solar projects, saving over sixteen million trees’ worth of carbon – that would be a forest covering everything within Seattle City Limits. A Western Washington University study calculates the environmental benefits of solar are worth $9 per kilowatt to the state, or approximately $5.4 million so far. The solar impact on health can’t be overstated, especially as we transition from gasoline to electric transportation. There’s a clear link from the air and water pollution of coal and natural gas to diseases like cancer, heart attacks, neurological damage, and breathing problems like asthma.
Nationally, solar’s economic impact already is staggering. The Solar Foundation’s 2015 National Solar Jobs Census found that the industry is adding workers nearly twelve times faster than the overall economy. Solar employs more than three hundred thousand people across the US: that’s 6 jobs in solar for every 1 remaining coal job, and solar continues to hire. This has been driven by the demand for solar, coupled with new technology that has led to a staggering drop in solar costs – and clearly the demand is rising. According to the Solar Industries Energy Association, The U.S. solar market had its biggest year ever in 2016, nearly doubling its previous record and adding more electric generating capacity than any other source of energy for the first time ever. Over the next five years, the cumulative U.S. solar market is expected to nearly triple in size.
This is the kind of economic, environmental, and health case that clearly makes sense to embrace. But in Washington state – that’s just not the case.
How Uncertainty Undermines Washington’s Solar Future
Washington solar businesses are up against the age-old business axiom – without certainty, it’s tough going. And while everything in the market shows that solar is an economic winner and that demand continues to grow --- without some level of policy certainty, the industry is limbo. That’s because the Washington State Legislature failed to reauthorize our state’s popular solar program last year. The existing program is badly outdated, a victim of even greater demand for solar than it was built for. Solar demand is tremendous, but without legislative certainty, solar companies can’t grow to meet it.
The industry needs the state to embrace a program update. Given how much has changed in solar (not to mention the world in general) since 2006, the existing program needs some tweaks. Without some reasonable changes to the existing program, the industry will be unable to protect the positive benefits of this program and effectively expand energy choices. Industry leaders say that unless an updated plan is passed quickly, the solar industry will not have a future.
Right now, the Washington State legislature is considering the Solar Jobs Bill (HB 1048 and SB 5499/5939) to solve this.
What are some of the current ‘biggies’ the solar industry would like to see?
The stakes are high. Washington State taxpayers deserve a more cost-effective solar program. Home- and business-owners who want energy independence deserve a program they can trust. And for Washington’s one hundred plus small businesses employing almost 4,000 people in solar, legislative certainty is make-or-break: without the Solar Jobs Bill, most of the existing solar-related companies will close their doors.
At the end of the day the solar industry is working with the legislature on the Solar Jobs Bill to try and create future certainty and more efficiencies for this industry. If it’s successful, the economic future is bright – not only will it save the existing jobs, but likely double them in the next couple of years. Our state will continue to realize the economic and environmental ‘amplifier’ benefits into the billions of dollars along with lowered emissions.
It’s time that we start recognize the importance of this unsung economic hero – and begin to sing its praises before it’s too late.
To learn more, visit SolarStrongWA.org.
Lisa McCrummen is a strategic communications consultant and on the WBCA leadership team.
Companies are doing a lot to take positive steps toward addressing global sustainability challenges, but collectively we’re not making progress as fast as needed. Over the past 10-15 years, corporate activities on sustainability have expanded and matured significantly. Companies are increasingly focused on those areas that are truly material to their operations, products, and value chains – whether that is water use, commodity sourcing, human rights, or climate change. External stakeholders are smart and active and want to see meaningful and relevant activities in the sustainability space – pushing companies to go beyond philanthropy or other efforts that might be secondary (or worse – distracting) from the areas where the company has a large impact.
Climate change is a particularly complex challenge given the level of collaboration required between government, private sector, and civil society to implement solutions. No single sector (or country or region) can solve a challenge of this magnitude alone. Increasingly, the private sector is playing an important role in both: 1) voicing the need for concrete policy actions to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and 2) deploying existing low-carbon and energy-efficient tools and technologies to cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions today.
Voicing Support for Policy Action on Climate: The business voice in support of climate action is strong. A recent statement signed by over 1000 companies and investors, Business Backs Low Carbon USA, calls on global leaders to implement the Paris Climate Agreement. The Ceres Climate Declaration highlights the economic opportunities of addressing climate change and the importance of policy certainty in speeding a transition to a low-carbon economy.
Scaling Up Deployment of Low-Carbon Technology: Here in Washington state a number of companies have taken innovative steps to deploy emission reducing tools and technology. Amazon.com (along with many other companies around the world) has set ambitious renewable energy sourcing commitments and in recent months has announced a number of large-scale wind and solar energy contracts. Microsoft achieved its 100% renewable energy goal in 2014 and has been a pioneer in implementing an internal carbon price which challenges each business unit to account for carbon emissions associated with its own operations.
In the absence of clear policy signals to drive GHG emission reductions and address adaptation challenges -- when voluntary commitments (even bold ones) are not enough -- investors are emerging as accelerators for progress. Investors play a unique role in governance and decision-making in public companies. For years, many in the socially responsible investing (SRI) space have been pushing companies toward greater transparency, and urging concrete actions to address social and environmental concerns. But now we are also seeing mainstream investors emerge as a significant positive force to accelerate climate progress. In a recent article, Emilie Mazzacurati - founder and CEO of Four Twenty Seven - highlights examples of major investors like BlackRock and State Street speaking out on the relevance of ESG factors and the importance of strategic measurement and analysis of the risks and opportunities presented by climate change.
So, how can investors accelerate corporate progress on climate change?
Sarah King has been working to advance climate & sustainability progress for over 15 years, most recently as a member of the sustainability team at DuPont. She is passionate about finding lasting solutions to sustainability challenges and enjoys working at the intersection of policy, innovation, and partnerships. Sarah is an Aspen Institute Catto Fellow, and is one of the newest members of the Washington Business for Climate Action leadership team. A recent transplant to Seattle, she is having fun exploring the city with her two kids, and loves the easy access to mountains, ocean, islands, and other great places in the Pacific Northwest.
Learn more and sign the Washington Business Climate Declaration, a rolling call to action, urging the public, policymakers, and other business leaders to seize the opportunity that exists for Washington to join the growing group of states, regions, and countries that are investing in a low-carbon future.