OVERCOMING POLITICAL RESISTANCE
One of the most daunting barriers, Congresswoman Giffords said, is political resistance. “The lobbyists for renewable energy are far outnumbered,” she said. A survey by the Center for Public Integrity of self-identified lobbyists working on climate questions reported that only 1 out of 10 lobbyists actually identified themselves as interested in renewable energy. She summarized the amounts spent by various energy lobbies during the first quarter of 2009, as follows: American Petroleum Institute, $1.9 million; British Petroleum, $3.6 million; Marathon Oil, $3.4 million; Conoco Phillips, $5.9 million; Chevron, $7 million; Exxon Mobil, $9.6 million. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy has an annual budget of $45 million. For renewable sources of energy, the wind power lobby spent some $1.6 million in the first quarter, and SEIA, the solar energy lobbying effort, spent $410,000.
“This is what we’re up against,” she said. “I’m not putting this up so we can get discouraged, because obviously with few resources, the solar industry has made tremendous strides. But now we have to figure out how to get this technology out there and installed and making a difference for our country and our world.” To do this, she suggested that supporters should “organize, advertise, and educate.”
“I know that the solar resource in the United States is greater than the fossil resource,” she said. “And I know that it’s ecologically and economically feasible for solar to be a major power generator. But many of my colleagues don’t know this—primarily because they just don’t have the information.” She urged her audience to communicate more directly and aggressively with Congress and others in positions of influence.
She closed by observing that much of the effort currently expended by solar companies is directed at demonstrating the strength of their own particular technologies. While this is essential, she said, the PV industry is unlikely to achieve its potential without more collaboration between all solar companies to educate the public about the solar opportunity. She said that in Arizona, her office makes education a key part of its solar strategy. They offer “Solar 101” classes to the public at schools, libraries, and other locations to explain how the average consumer can benefit from solar installations at their home or business. She has created a “Solar Hot Team,” consisting of solar leaders from across Arizona that engages in weekly check-ins to share information and insights on recent developments.
“The bottom line,” she said, “is that we have a lot to do. Some of my frustration with the technology folks getting into clean energy is that they have not fully appreciated how energy is different from Silicon Valley and the computing industry. Many of them have not understood the challenges of going into these very traditional energy markets, where they have to deal with regulations at the federal, state, and local levels. Add to that the fact that the lobbying power of