As the Republicans gather in Tampa this week for a delayed nominating convention, the conventional wisdom is that a gathering in "the Sunshine State" is a bit ironic for a party that seems to occasionally enjoy bashing solar power. Voters would be forgiven for thinking that the Republicans are unified against a clean, abundant, proven, and free energy source. After all, some members of the Republican Party have spent a year trying to turn an anecdote into an issue with the consequence - intended or otherwise - of threatening an industry that employs 100,000 Americans.
Indeed, for the better part of the year, it seems all we've heard from the Republicans is how solar power seems to be the reason for the perceived downfall of American civilization. But if you talk with people at organizations such as The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) they will remind you that solar power isn't a partisan issue at all.
Pull away the curtain from some of the bluster of these Republicans and you start to see a different picture. Rather, we are seeing some Republican leaders who are cheering on solar in a very real and practical way. Just look no further than the convention's keynote speaker, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. While perhaps better known for oil refineries and "The Sopranos," New Jersey is also surprisingly known as one of the nation's fastest growing solar states - second only to California. And, on top of that, Christie presides over a solar market that:
1. Is one of the most diverse in the nation, with companies offering a full range of solar products and services, including solar panel manufacturing, residential and commercial solar photovoltaic and heating and cooling installation, project development and financing, and solar advocacy.
2. Has 174 MW of solar energy installed in the first quarter of 2012 - more than in any other state. This marks the first time that any state other than California has been ranked first in quarterly solar installations.
3. Has enough solar energy in the state to power 107,000 homes today.
4. Has seen $1.2 billion invested in New Jersey to install solar for homes, businesses and utilities in 2011 alone. This pace has quickened at the beginning of 2012 - with nearly $562 million invested through the first 3 months.
On top of that, on Thursday night, Republican delegates and the television viewing public will watch as the night's headliner, Governor Mitt Romney himself, makes his case to be our country's next President during his acceptance speech as the Republican nominee for President. During that speech there is a chance he will take a swipe or two at the solar industry.
But if he continues to use anti-solar rhetoric, he will leave many of us shaking our heads when we compare his words with his past deeds as Governor.
As Massachusetts Governor in 2003, Mitt Romney created a $15 million energy fund for equity capital, loans, and management assistance to the relatively nascent renewable energy industry and Massachusetts-based companies that were trying to maneuver their way through the challenges that all start-up companies have to face. Yes, that is $15 million of Massachusetts residents' hard-earned tax dollars that he felt was best invested in what he now calls "risky" green energy companies.
Further, in 2005, Governor Romney signed a bill that allowed the City of Brockton to build a solar farm on land that was unused, polluted and not the most developable land in the city. Once again, Governor Romney used taxpayer dollars to invest in solar - the same action he currently criticizes President Obama for doing.
I say "kudos to Governor Romney for making such a wise investment" and "shame on candidate Romney for being critical of similar actions by his political opponents just to realize political gain."
The actions by Governor Christie and then-Governor Romney are impressive to be sure. And even more surprising because of the political noise we hear around solar these days. But SEIA points out that it is nothing but noise. The reality is that both political parties are realizing the value of solar power in energy, jobs and investments. And as SEIA also points out on their website, (www.seia.org/policy) it's not just New Jersey. In Tampa, where thousands of Republicans are now gathered, there are 37 solar companies in the area. Across the state there are 314 companies employing real people - both Republicans and Democrats. It gets hard to demonize an industry when your delegates and voters are making their bread and butter off a power source that is real, here and working.
With a solar track record like we see in New Jersey and Massachusetts....I can hardly wait for the other convention speakers!
Brian F. Keane is President of SmartPower the nation's leading non profit marketing firm dedicated to promoting clean energy and energy efficiency. He is also the author of Green Is Good: Save Money, Make Money, and Help Your Community Profit From Clean Energy (Lyons Press, October 2012)