I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Rosenfeld recently at an event held by CALSSA in California State Capitol. Dave has spent most of his career “helping the little guy stand up to powerful interests” and is currently the Executive Director of the Solar Rights Alliance.
In this interview with Dave, we discuss everything you need to know about this non-profit organization, why they are advocating for solar stakeholders in California, and how you can join their efforts.
SMA Inverted: What is the Solar Rights Alliance?
Dave Rosenfeld: We are a statewide organization of California solar users – homeowners, renters, farmers, businesses – that believe everyone has the right to make their own energy from the sun without unreasonable interference from the utilities. We keep track of what the politicians, regulators and utilities are up to and alert solar users when there is a threat to their investment, so they can make their voices heard.
SMA Inverted: What are the main challenges that solar stakeholders are facing right now?
Dave Rosenfeld: California utilities are working to make it harder and more expensive for people to make and store their own energy from the sun. They lobby to cut net metering – the credit you get for the extra energy you give back to the grid. They push extra fees that discriminate against you just for having solar. They delay interconnection to the grid, pushing up costs and discouraging solar adoption. They shift rates around, creating unpredictability for solar users seeking the opposite. They’ve even proposed shifting ownership of solar to them, and forcing solar users to buy their own energy back from the utility.
SMA Inverted: Why would utilities put up barriers to solar?
Dave Rosenfeld: The utilities are used to being the monopoly, and you being the captive customer. When you choose solar, the utility’s profits drop and their monopoly weakens. They don’t like that.
SMA Inverted: Why is it important to have a network of solar advocates in California?
Dave Rosenfeld: The utilities have an army of lobbyists and a big bank account– and they use it every day to influence the politicians and regulators. But there are 1 million solar users in California. We are politically, geographically, and socio-economically diverse. Each of us alone does not have much power. However, when we speak together as a group, we have enormous power. So let’s speak together and defend our rights!
SMA Inverted: What is the Solar Bill of Rights, and why is it critical?
Dave Rosenfeld: The Solar Bill of Rights (SB 288) is a proposal before the California Legislature. If passed, it would guarantee by law your right to make and store solar energy on your property without unreasonable red tape or fees that discriminate against you just for having solar. The Solar Bill of Rights is our best weapon to help people connect their systems to the grid quickly, stop crazy solar-only fees and prevent other anti-solar moves by the utilities.
SMA Inverted: What type of support is this bill garnering? Is this a bi-partisan bill?
Dave Rosenfeld: The Solar Bill of Rights is super bi-partisan! It’s lead authors are Democrat Senator Scott Wiener and Republican Jim Nielsen. Senator Nielsen represents the town of Paradise, so he knows first-hand the terrible impacts of wildfires, and supports efforts to give residents and communities the ability to keep the lights on in an emergency. Advocates for low-income Californians like GRID Alternatives, who recognize solar as a path to financial independence from crushing electricity bills, also support SB 288.
SMA Inverted: How is the Solar Rights Alliance advocating for this bill?
Dave Rosenfeld: In short, by alerting solar users about this opportunity and asking them to tell their lawmakers to support the legislation. The details depend on what’s happening in the Capitol. For example, the first committee vote is coming up on April 10, so we’re doing the following:
- Running a series of advertisements about how the utilities are trying to stall rooftop solar in the state. Many folks don’t know this is happening, and they should.
- Organizing one-on-one meetings between critical lawmakers and their constituents, because the personal touch is our best tool to overcome the utilities.
- Recruiting like crazy to pack the hearing room in the State Capitol next Wednesday – that means tons of phone calls, text messages and emails. We’re even offering to pay for people’s gas so no one gets left behind.
- Ensuring the lawmakers on this committee know that their constituents support the Solar Bill of Rights by making sure they get a flood of phone calls and emails from the folks back home.
SMA Inverted: Why should homeowners get involved?
Dave Rosenfeld: You snooze, you lose. No one will defend your rights for you. The utilities are in the Capitol all day every day. If lawmakers only hear from them, they will do their bidding. If lawmakers hear from you, they will consider doing the right thing. If lawmakers hear from LOTS of you, they WILL do the right thing.
SMA Inverted: How can homeowners help support this bill?
Dave Rosenfeld: Go to this website right now and email your lawmakers in support of the Solar Bill of Rights. That’s the first step. The second is to read and be responsive to additional email alerts from us. We’ll follow up when it is the right time to make a phone call, attend a meeting with your lawmaker, etc.
SMA Inverted: Why should installers and other solar businesses get involved?
Dave Rosenfeld: There are 1 million solar users in California. That’s an army of pro-solar activists waiting to be mobilized, and you are the best one to alert your customers. You won their trust and installed their systems. You are the best messenger to go back to your customers and ask them to help win the Solar Bill of Rights.
SMA Inverted: How can installers and other solar businesses help support this bill?
Dave Rosenfeld: The first step is send an email right now to their customer list asking them to take action for the Solar Bill of Rights. I have a high quality email that many solar businesses from Sunrun to Corda Solar have already sent to their customers, with great results. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the text.
SMA Inverted: Who should join the Solar Rights Alliance?
Dave Rosenfeld: Everyone who has solar should join – homeowners, renters, farmers, businesses, churches, etc. We’re stronger when we speak together.
SMA Inverted: What is the procedure to become a member of the Solar Rights Alliance?
Dave Rosenfeld: It’s easy and it is free. Just go to www.solarrights.org and click Join. Fill out the form and you’re all set. We will not sell or share your information with anyone.
SMA Inverted: What are some the benefits of becoming a member that make this worthwhile for our readers?
Dave Rosenfeld: You will always know when there is a threat to your investment or an opportunity to expand solar for everyone. You will be given simple ways to make your voice heard, and the option of more advanced ways to amplify your voice further. If you become a monthly donor (optional), you’ll also get a cool sticker to put on your door! But seriously, we’re a low frills, no gimmicks grassroots organization. You already made your investment. We want to help you protect that investment.
SMA Inverted: How can people sign up to volunteer for the Solar Rights Alliance?
Dave Rosenfeld: When you join by going to www.solarrights.org, there will be a checkbox where you can indicate interest in volunteering. You will also receive a survey asking you about some of the things you may be interested in doing. Look for those, and we will happily take you up on what you are willing to do! Our members have hosted house parties, met with their lawmakers, and appeared in promotional videos and more.
SMA Inverted: I know we have a lot of installers and homeowners reading, what would you tell them about the benefits of solar, the relevance of the Solar Bill of Rights and the importance of the Solar Rights Alliance?
Dave Rosenfeld: Solar is a path to greater freedom and independence for every man, woman and child of our great state. It is a cornerstone to a healthier environment. It is also a threat to the powerful utility monopoly. Do not underestimate their willingness to strangle rooftop solar. It is critical for solar users to band together to fight back. That means passing the Solar Bill of Rights this year and likely something else next year. Let’s work together and spread the freedom of solar across the state!
Alexandra is a marketing program manager for SMA America. She manages the company’s social media channels, contributes to digital marketing strategies, manages video production efforts and helps develop Spanish-language content.