Chaos theory says that the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. That may or may not be true, but one thing is certain: Most things are won or lost in the margins.
That’s the case we found in the Oregon legislature in 2017. The solar industry’s top priority this session was to extend – or, if needed, replace – an existing tax credit that helps residential customers put solar on their homes (the same tax credit also helps Oregonians make energy efficiency investments in their homes). The tax credit is scheduled to sunset at the end of this year, and the general consensus was that it was still needed to help drive clean energy investments in homes throughout the state, help the solar industry continue to grow and help the state meet its greenhouse-gas emission reduction goals.
OSEIA, Oregon’s solar trade group, started our advocacy effort last fall, talking to legislators during the campaign about the importance of the tax credit to solar installers. We started developing an “Oregon Solar Plan” to provide a long-term vision for solar in the state and demonstrated the need to maintain existing policies (including the tax credit) in order to realize that vision. We had strong legislative champions and an active grassroots base that generated hundreds of calls and e-mails at the drop of an action alert.
During the session, we struck a deal to allow the existing tax credit to expire but to be immediately replaced by a new credit that cost less and provided a glide path to signal that the industry was going to work to not need the incentive anymore over the course of several years. That deal, because of our champions, grassroots network and inside-the-Capitol lobbying, was alive until the last hours of the session.
But in the end, we fell short due mainly to a couple of legislators whose top priority was reforming the state’s revenue system. When that didn’t happen, those legislators maintained the position of “no new revenue, no new tax credits,” no matter how worthy (and needed) those tax credits might be. No amount of arguments about jobs, economic development, confronting climate change, popularity of solar or anything else moved them from their mantra.
We did most everything right from an advocacy perspective but got caught in the margins with a few legislators who had other priorities. The loss was tough, especially because people’s jobs literally hang in the balance. But solar is resilient, and we are taking lessons from our colleagues in Nevada and Washington state who saw their incentive regimes evaporate only to be brought back in some form a couple of years later.
In Oregon, we hope not to have to wait that long. We have a chance in a February 2018 session to get an incentive re-established. The uncertainty over the next several months won’t be painless, but we hope to make the pain more like a headache rather than having an arm cut off.
Oregon has a chance to realize the mistake it made in allowing an incentive to help individual homeowners invest in clean energy expire at the end of the year (energy efficiency fell by the wayside, too). Solar advocates will be working with our efficiency allies to quickly rectify the mistake. We’ll now try to win in the margins with a bigger grassroots network and examples of lost opportunities. Stay tuned, and we’ll report back at the end of February 2018!
Jeff Bissonnette is the executive director of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association.