Abigail Ross Hopper
President and CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association 

Solar energy has enjoyed extraordinary growth in recent years, thanks largely to declining costs and commercial investments, but public policy has played a big role, too. So, what lies in store for solar in 2019, amid increasingly ominous reports about climate change and ongoing debates over the role of federal and state policies?

In this edition of the Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless talks to Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. trade group for solar energy. Abby joined SEIA in 2017 after having run the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at U.S. Department of the Interior during the Obama administration. Before that, she served as director of the Maryland Energy Administration, energy adviser to then Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and deputy general counsel with the Maryland Public Service Commission. As such she’s learned firsthand how policy is made at the state and federal levels, and now represents the US solar industry.

Bill and Abby sat down at her office in Washington to discuss the condition of solar energy in the U-S today, the prospects for federal and state policies governing this sector, and the opportunities and challenges for leaders in this field like Abby.

Read the transcript

[00:00:03]

Bill Loveless:  Solar energy has enjoyed extraordinary growth in recent years.  Thanks largely to declining costs and commercial investments.  But public policy has played a big role too.  So, what lights in store for solar in 2019 amid increasingly ominous reports about climate change and ongoing debates over the role of federal and state policies and energy.  Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.  A weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.  From Washington, I’m Bill Loveless.  Our guest today is Abby Hopper, the President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.  The U.S.  trade group for the solar energy industry.  Abby joined as CIA in 2017 after having run the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at the U.S.  Department of Interior during the Obama administration.  Before that, she served as director of the Maryland Energy Administration, energy advisor to then Maryland governor Martin O'Malley and deputy general counsel with the Maryland Public Service Commission.  As such, she’s learned firsthand how policy is made at the state and federal levels and now represents the U.S.  solar industry.  We sat down at Abby’s office in Washington to discuss the condition of solar energy in the U.S.  today, the prospects for federal and state policies governing the sector and the opportunities and challenges for leaders in this field like Abby.  Here is our conversation.  I hope you enjoy it.  Abby Hopper, welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:01:39]

Abby Hopper:  Thank you for having me.

 

[00:01:41]

Bill Loveless:  We’re delighted to have you.  I know, you’ve been very busy right now.  It’s a busy time of year for you and for other leaders in energy here in Washington, new after the election, new congress coming in, in the year coming up.  But I want to get into some of that but let’s just start with talk a bit about you and so our listeners can know you better and talk a little bit about your career path and what brought you to solar energy?

 

[00:02:07]

Abby Hopper:  Sure.  That’s a good fun question to answer.  A little bit about me.  Let me think.  I am a lawyer by training and I practiced law for ten years.  Didn’t do anything related to energy, didn’t think about energy.  Switched my life switch.  The lights came on.  I tried to remember to pay my electricity bill and that was about the extent of my engagement in the energy world.  And I really came into energy through regulatory contacts.  I had three babies, you know, three kids under the age of five needed to not be in private practice and so I went to work at our regulatory commission in Maryland, that deputy general counsel there.  So I put my lawyer hat on and tackled a whole new area of law.  And I found out, they really liked it.  I was fascinated by energy regulation.

 

[00:02:54]

Bill Loveless:  And you had done quite a bit on energy in Maryland.  You were energy advisor to former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley and spent time as a deputy general counsel at the Maryland Public Service Commission.  So you get seeped in energy in Maryland, it sounds like.

 

[00:03:01]

Abby Hopper:  I would say, yeah, that was my entry there.  I went from the legal side, being the deputy general counsel at the regulatory agency to the political and policy side, working for the governor.  I had switched to a whole range of energy issues.  So it wasn’t just renewables but energy efficiency.  We have two nukes in Maryland.  We have coal plants, we have natural gas plants.  I am pushing a offshore wind bill for the governor.  So, we had big storms and lots of outages, prolonged outages and so thinking about our electric distribution system and how do we build that resiliency and reliability around that.  So I really had a, then we had a whole bunch of mergers, Exelon and Pepco and a whole bunch of things.  So I was involved in all of that working for the governor.  It gave me a really broad overview of the energy system.  I went from there to work for the president and I ran that agency that does all offshore energy development.  So, that’s where I got a quick lesson in oil and gas.

 

[00:03:23]

 

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.  That was the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

 

[00:04:04]

Abby Hopper:  Yes, exactly.

 

[00:04:04]

Bill Loveless:  During the Obama administration.

 

[00:04:05]

Abby Hopper:  Yes, yes.  So I did that for a couple of years.  That included renewables as well as traditional fuels.  So, a lot of offshore wind work there as well.  And when the president was, you know, term limited, I needed a job.  And so, to me people ask me, why did you decide to go to solar, right? Solar has never been sort of a defining part of your experience and I came in solar for a couple of reasons.  One is because I really believed in a transformation of our energy system.  I believe, it’s inevitable and I believe it’s happening and I wanted to be a part of that.  But I also am so intrigued by the innovation in the solar industry and the entrepreneurial spirit of our companies.  I’ve engaged with lots of different kinds of energy companies and there is something particular about solar, it’s kind of a hunger among solar entrepreneurs and I’m super attracted to that and it’s so fun to work with solar entrepreneurs.

 

[00:05:01]

Bill Loveless:  Let’s talk about the solar industry.  It recorded impressive growth in the United States around the world for that matter in recent years.  But the forecast for 2018 is flat according to a report released by Wood McKenzie in the association in September.  What’s going on right now?

 

[00:05:20]

Abby Hopper:  You know, I’m glad you asked that.  What’s going on right now is that we are feeling the effects of the tariffs.  So, in January of this year, the press imposed tariffs on solar panels coming from every country in the world.  We fought that vigorously and I think the outcome was better than it could have been but that tariff which is basically just added cost to consumers.

 

[00:05:43]

Bill Loveless:  It was 30% as I recall.

 

[00:05:45]

Abby Hopper:  Exactly.  30% tax on solar panels coming in from outside of the country.  It’s being passed on to consumers and so obviously if your product is more expensive less people want to buy it.  So that’s what you’re seeing in 2018.  That’s why, it’s flat.  You know, the story should be one of continued growth.  Right, if you look at our projections before the tariffs were imposed, we were growing in 2018 and so, it’s been frustrating to see that growth _____ [00:06:11] in this way.

 

[00:06:12]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  Do you anticipate that it will begin to pick up any time soon because otherwise, there is a lot of good things that you could cite.  The cost of solar has gone down considerably, you know, in recent years.  Some down some 88% over the last nine years as I’ve read.  You had a recent report from _____ [00:06:33] talking about the levelized cost of utility scale solars now as low as 36 cents for a megawatt hour which, the report says, we’d put it on part with the marginal cost of coal.  So, there are other factors.  I mean, do they outweigh the effects, the impact of the tariff?

 

[00:06:54]

Abby Hopper:  So the impact of the tariff, two things.  One, the tariffs will go down every year.  That currently, they are in place for four years.  We’re in year one.  In January, they’ll go down by 5% to 25% and down the next two years.  So, that will have an impact and the other thing it’s having impact is that, you know, these innovators are continuing to innovate.  So, they’re innovating on the technology.  Right, how do we make our panels more efficient? Get more energy out of them.  They are innovating on the financing, how do we do this, so there is less cost, less expense, financing.  You know, what products do we want to offer our customers.  So we put solar and storage together and offer that to customers.  And so, the projections, you know, if you looked at that report, the projection show that we will double in the next four years.  The amount of solar installed in this country.  So, our future is incredibly promising.  But it’s because of sort of ingenuity, hardwork and innovation and it’s frustrating when government action like this gets in our way.

 

[00:07:55]

Bill Loveless:  Well, government action is always gonna be a factor.  We just had the elections, the midterm elections in the U.S.  What are the implications for policy, for solar energy policy here in the federal government in Washington with the elections that we’ve just seen?

 

[00:08:17]

Abby Hopper:  Yeah.  Well, I just came from the hill.  I spent all afternoon on the hill with some of our senators.  I think, there is lots of opportunity for things to happen in Washington after this most recent election.  And I say that for a couple of reasons.  You know, having divided chambers provides room for negotiation.  And as I talk with republicans and I talk with democrats, there is a real appetite for unleashing this innovation and unleashing this opportunity to create an economic engine which we are.  And so, as I think about, you know, what do we want, what could happen in this next congress? So, this one thing that is relatively discreet and we have investment tax credit for solar which helps, you know, bring down the cost.

 

[00:09:09]

Bill Loveless:  Right, and which is now scheduled to phase out over the next several years.

 

[00:09:13]

Abby Hopper:  Exactly.  We are asking that storage also be eligible for that same investment tax credit.  That’s what I was talking to senator about today.  We think, maybe at the end of the year, right as things happen in the _____ [00:09:26] there might be an opportunity for that to happen and if not early the next congress.  We’re hopeful that will happen.

 

[00:09:30]

Bill Loveless:  What kind of reception do you get when you bring that up?

 

[00:09:32]

Abby Hopper:  You know, we get really positive reception.  It is, this particular bill applies to all technologies.  Not just solar.  So we are in collaboration with the wind industry, with the hydro industry, with electric utilities, even natural gas and coal could benefit from storage.  Storage is a technology neutral solution.  And so, it has appeal kind of across broad constituencies.  So we get a lot of positive feedback.  The question is whether everything is gonna move in congress.

 

[00:10:03]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, right and yeah, right and that’s been the situation in Washington for years now, really, I mean the gridlock, the bipartisan gridlock that has taken place here and made it difficult for policy, people interested in seeing policy made.  By the way, the sirens we are hearing in the back, your offices overlook here in downtown Washington so, we knew, we were in the center of some sort of action.

 

[00:10:28]

Abby Hopper:  Yeah, it is rush hour.

 

[00:10:29]

Bill Loveless:  And it is rush hour as we speak.  You know, you mentioned being up in the hill.  You talk about the political climate.  But there has also been, you know, always the discussion about the climate and climate change and as we sit here, we’ve just seen in recent days, the release of two more reports with a dire warnings about climate change.  One from the United Nations, the other from more than 300 scientists in the federal government.  Each of which says, we’re, you know, approaching a point of no return potentially, if we don’t act on rising temperatures soon.

 

[00:11:04]

Abby Hopper:  Right.

 

[00:11:06]

Bill Loveless:  Of course, the administration has been discarding those reports but I just wonder where, you know, what is the dialogue right now? What is the climate for this discussion right now when you go up to Capitol Hill?

 

[00:11:27]

Abby Hopper:  It’s a good question.  I think this is what I think.  I think that there is a great interest in solutions.  So, people, you don’t need to take a position on climate change.  How fast it’s happening, how urgent the need is.  I mean, I have strong opinions about that.  But if you offer people low cost affordable clean energy, they’re interested, right.  So the solution fits even if nobody, if people don’t agree on the problem.  And so that’s really the dialogue that we have is, hey, solar is affordable.  Your customers want it, your constituents want it.  Your utilities want it.  It provides reliability, it provides resiliency.  You know, it’s an American made technology.  250,000 Americans are employed in this industry and so those are the kind of messages that really work up on the hill especially.  Because they sort of avoid the question.  You know, how to get into the question of climate change.

 

[00:12:31]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  But if you believe in the urgency of climate change, you know and I think you do.

 

[00:12:36]

Abby Hopper:  I do.

 

[00:12:39]

Bill Loveless:  Then do we risk, you know, responding insufficiently on policy if we don’t address it head on.

 

[00:12:51]

Abby Hopper:  I think, so, you know, I work for a trade association, right so I represent businesses and businesses are interested in their bottomline and creating markets, right.  And so, it’s not helpful to me as the head of a trade association to get into debate with anybody about whether or not climate change exist or how quickly it’s happening or what the causes are.  As in my role as the head of a trade association, it makes sense for me to make the argument about why we should have policies that are supportive of solar.

 

[00:13:19]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.

 

[00:13:20]

Abby Hopper:  If you’re someone who believes that climate change requires urgent action, then I’m gonna talk to you about climate change and that’s the message you’re gonna get.  If you’re someone who believes that you want as many jobs in your district as possible, I’m gonna talk to you about the jobs in your district and so, I don’t, we don’t shy away from the climate change conversation but we try to tailor the message to the person receiving the message.

 

[00:13:44]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right and you feel there is a lot, you can accomplish on behalf of solar, even in that sort of targeted space that you’re in.  Now, one thing I found interesting, you were on another podcast recently called Suncast is what it’s called and you were making the point there that there while solar enjoy, solar energy enjoys broad support.  It’s really not well understood among many people.  What do you mean by that?

 

[00:14:19]

Abby Hopper:  So we just had an opportunity to have some polling turn and it gave us some really interesting data and you’re right.  We found that solar is the number one choice for among consumers.  Right, 79% of people believe their utility should get more of its energy from solar more than any of the other technologies out there.  So huge popular support.  Doesn’t matter if you’re republican, democrat, man, woman, independent, from the coast, from the middle of the country, you like solar, right.  But you might not know much about it.  You probably think it’s a little expensive like you probably don’t realize that the cost have fallen so dramatically and that it’s probably something you can afford.  You probably think that, you know, it’s only on rooftops.  Right, people don’t understand that the majority of solar that’s been deployed in this country are really just big power plants on a utility scale.  They don’t understand this model of community solar.  I like the expression solar gardens.  So they are basically, you know systems where you live in a house that has trees all around or you live in an apartment or you live in an HOA that doesn’t allow you to have solar in your home.  You can buy a share basically buy a membership into this solar garden and enjoy it that way.  So, what we found at this point that the more people learn about solar, the more their opinions become more and more positive.  And so, that’s been part of our challenge and you know, it’s a lot of stuff that we do on the hill is educate law makers and policy makers about the reality of solar, right.  That we are cost competitive.  The _____ [00:15:55] study you mentioned that we are, we can compete head to head with other forms of electricity.

 

[00:16:00]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.  So, when you look in that your opportunities for policy on the hill, you mentioned, you know, extending the investment tax credit to energy storage.  You know, with the changes we see in congress, democratic control house and still are republican controlled senate, where are the opportunities to establish new policies that would be supportive of solar in that political climate?

 

[00:16:26]

Abby Hopper:  Yeah, I think there is a opportunity around infrastructure, so that everyone in Washington likes to talk about an infrastructure bell.  If we think about, you know, infrastructure, how do we run our country, right.  And obviously, the energy system, the energy delivery system and generation system is a critical part of that.  And so, how do we create policies that will incent more solar, incent more transmission so that electrons get where they need to be.  How do we electrify our vehicle transportation system? How do we create infrastructure to allow those vehicles to be charged at the right places and so, I think that’s an area where there is a lots of opportunity for new policy and collaboration among both parties to find some common solutions on infrastructure.

 

[00:17:14]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  What about among the state? So, again these many of these mid, we had mid terms but in many cases, they were voting on referenda in the states, you know, they were voting on governors and state legislative, state legislators, if we had referenda, of course, in Arizona, in Nevada to increase the renewable portfolio standard as well and it, some, it passed in Nevada.  It failed in Arizona.  Tell me a little bit about what you see when you look out among the states when it comes to policies that support or maybe don’t do enough to support solar energy.

 

[00:17:52]

Abby Hopper:  Sure.  Well, you know, I come from state government.  It’s impartial to state action.  The governor have an enormous amount of influence over their energy policy and legislature do.  So, as I look at the result of this most recent election, it’s incredibly promising for clean energy.  These seven different governors who were elected ran on clean energy policies.  50% to a 100% renewable energy.  And so, I think there is an incredible opportunity to create state level policy.  A lot of states are already doing it but a lot of them are doubling down on their commitments, right.  They are increasing their renewable portfolio standards, they’re increasing their programs to help solar deployment.  They’re increasing opportunities for low and moderate income families to have access to solar.  They’re creating a community, solar garden legislation that allows that to happen in their states.  And so, if I had a word to congress, it would be, let’s look at the states.  Right, the states are really innovating in this policy arena and maybe we should be following their lead.

 

[00:18:54]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, it can vary from one state to another, obviously.  I mean Arizona did, and Arizona voters did turn down the bid to increase raise the renewable portfolio standard.  Why…

 

[00:19:06]

Abby Hopper:  Nevada voters voted to…

 

[00:19:06]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, explain that to me.  Is it just a matter of the way money was spent on the campaigns.

 

[00:19:13]

Abby Hopper:  It’s pretty amazing how much money was spent in that campaigns.  In fact, I don’t think, we can underestimate the impact of that.  But and I also think that there is some interesting wording of the ballot initiatives, right that maybe is less impactful to voters.  But what is clear is, you know, even if the voters voted down the referendum in Arizona, Arizona continues to be a really popular place for solar deployment.  So there are, they’re sort of the referendum and there is what is actually happening on the ground.  What’s actually happening on the ground is customers want more solar.

 

[00:19:48]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  Well, and it’s better.  Some say, referenda are not really the appropriate vehicles for enacting major new policies.  You really need sort of deliberate action of and political action in the state houses and I mean, is that the better way of doing it?

 

[00:20:06]

Abby Hopper:  Oh, gosh, I didn’t thought about the best way to legislate but I think there certainly are a role for referendum but obviously, it’s, you know, we spend most of our time in the state houses.

 

[00:20:19]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.  Yeah, it just seems and again I think it’s the way money is spent too.  It depends on the vested interests in those different places.  But, we do look increasingly, I think two states to do, to act on policy across the board on energy and on other issues especially, you know, given that we have, there is an administration here now that’s not as committed let’s say on some of these issues as, you know, the administration that you worked in was but you know steps taken by the federal government in the past were important to the development of solar energy, the investment tax credit is one example of that.  States too of course have been a part of the renewable portfolio standards in various places.  Can the states make up through their various policies and steps they may take and states make up for the inaction that takes place in Washington on policy when it comes to the development of solar energy.

 

[00:21:17]

Abby Hopper:  That’s an interesting question.  Well, I mean, let’s take a step back.  In a republican led senate, a republican led house, a republican administration, the solar investment tax credit was untouched during tax reform, right.  So that was not a small accomplishment.  That was a huge accomplishment for our industry, right.  At the end of 2015, the phase down that you referenced, that was a bipartisan deal that was struck to allow a very predictable, reliable and clear glide path towards the end of that investment tax credit.  And so, you know, while there is probably always other things the federal government could be doing, we have actually had some big successes over the last few years that are investments, I think, you know, obviously, that congress has restored funding to DOE and to the R&D, that’s happening on solar technology.  And we think that’s really important to the continued growth and innovation in the solar industry.  And so, you know the tariffs have been incredibly problematic but otherwise, we have had a, we have not had too much difficulty brought on the solar industry.

 

[00:22:38]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.  What concerns here looking forward, I mean, now there are things that you might worry about with changes in government taking place over the next.

 

[00:22:38]

Abby Hopper:  I think the main thing that concerns me is the product of our success.  So, here a little nascent sort of technology that is more like a science experiment no one really cares much about.  But when you are competing head to head with incumbent generators on price, and you are taking market share, you start taking some arrows.  And so, what concerns me are efforts to sort of subsidize those incumbent generators that can’t compete.  Right, the marketplace has changed.  The marketplace has fundamentally changed and will continue to change.  And so, any effort to subsidize our way back to what it was before, that causes me great concerns.

 

[00:23:33]

Bill Loveless:  And that’s what across the department of energy during this administration was looking at very kind of policy to try to keep old coal and nuclear plants online.  The federal energy regulatory commission while turned aside what deal we had offered about a year ago is still looking at that issue.  The question of reliability and the role of old generation versus new generation hasn’t gone away.  I mean, what would be your advice to the regulators these days?

 

[00:23:33]

Abby Hopper:  My advice and we’re deeply involved in all these proceedings that you mentioned and actually found ourselves in a really interesting coalition fighting that proposal from DOE.  So we were with our familiar friends, right the wind industry, storage industry and the hydro industry.  But also with the oil and gas industry who similarly and opposed that proposal by secretary Perry.  My advice would be to, you know, A, be committed to competitive markets, right.  The competitive markets usually work and B, understand all of the values and attributes of energy sources.  So there is no one in the storage industry who will walk away from a conversation about reliability, resiliency.  We’re not afraid of that.  We’re not scared of that.  We provide reliable, resilient power too.  And we also provide a bunch of other attributes to the grid and so, you know, my advice to regulators is under, you know, and they do.  But understand how all of these technologies work.  Right, what attributes do we want.  Not what fuel sources, we want.  And let’s value those.  And then let people compete.

 

[00:25:16]

Bill Loveless:  Makes me think of another comment I heard from you recently which was…

 

[00:25:20]

Abby Hopper:  What did I say?

 

[00:25:21]

Bill Loveless:  Which was, you know, on this issue, the competition with other fuels.  When it comes to promoting solar energy, it’s better to talk about you said the affirmative aspects of solar energy rather than to take on say coal and compare solar with coal.  As often happens, I mean, it’s part of the studies that you do and all that.  But it sort of puts you in a difficult position, I guess on the reliability debate that you probably watch.  What you say about coal.

 

[00:25:52]

Abby Hopper:  Yeah, I don’t talk about it very often.  And part of that is because that the polling that I was talking about, that was one of the findings was that people were less persuaded when we compare ourselves to other technologies than they were when we talked about what are the attributes that solar can bring.

 

[00:26:09]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:26:09]

Abby Hopper:  Yeah, I don’t talk about technologies really.  I talk about incumbent generators, right which maybe sounds a little wonky but, so yeah, maybe my people tell me, I need a new phrase but you know, investments in technology and investments in plants more specifically that have been paid for by rate payers, those cost all recovered with a rate of return over the last X number of decades, it’s unclear to me why they should now start being subsidized by the same rate payers that have already paid for them.

 

[00:26:45]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.  And when it comes to investing in technology for solar, you think that, storage remains or storage is the most important consideration.

 

[00:26:54]

Abby Hopper:  I think storage is a game changer.  Yeah, absolutely.

 

[00:27:00]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  I interviewed _____ [00:27:04] earlier this year and we talked about solar technology and if I’m recalling it correctly, he was saying that, solar has come so far with the technology, it has but there is really a need to look at the alternatives in the new technologies too and I think he thought sometimes that is necessarily given as much attention as it should.

 

[00:27:22]

 

Abby Hopper:  Yeah, well, you know, I think that is a really important role for the federal government.  Right, they have historically through our national labs done some of that cutting-edge research and many of the products and the technologies that are in place today started in labs.  And so, that, you know, I think that’s the right sort of segue way or pathway for that R&D to continue to happen which is why, I mentioned earlier, you know, congress continue to fund those R&D efforts in our national labs is so critically important.

 

[00:27:50]

Bill Loveless:  Right, I should mentioned _____ [00:27:55] is a former policy analyst with the council on foreign relations and author on the subject as well.  Jobs, I know, you’re a big advocate of all the jobs, the potential but as we speak, the news on the street is GM is laying off thousands of workers and you know job remains a big consideration.  Can the solar industry make up in some way and in some fashion for all the jobs you may see lost at a place like General Motors?

 

[00:28:23]

Abby Hopper:  I had thought about auto workers working in solar plants.  But I imagine they would be a great additions to our workforce.  You know, one of the things that is interesting about the solar workforce is that about two-thirds of our jobs don’t require a college education.  Right, they are technical jobs and they are some are skills, some are unskilled.  And so, it’s really open to a variety of people.  So, I would welcome any of General Motors employees to come.  One of the interesting question, I didn’t think you were gonna ask me that.  I thought, you were gonna ask me, if we can employ co-workers? That’s a question, I get asked a little more frequently.  And it’s interesting.  We have overlaid sort of the traditional coal states, right in the south east mostly part of the United States and then where solar is growing and in places like Tennessee, you know state of Tennessee or even some of the other states, solar continues to grow.  It is being deployed at rapid rates.  There is a solar company in West Virginia called Solar _____ [00:29:36] I believe and they are, you know, they have a… Their mascot, whatever it’s called.  Like their, what is it called? Their logo, thank you.  Their logo is a co-worker under the sun.  So, it’s, you know, there is a lot of transferability, I think between, you know, folks in the energy sector and without, you know, without asking people to move, that solar really is taking off in those regions as well.

 

[00:30:05]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.  But solar and wind, I mean.

 

[00:30:07]

Abby Hopper:  And wind, yes.

 

[00:30:08]

Bill Loveless:  From Bureau of Labor Statistics information, those have been among the fastest growing jobs.

 

[00:30:14]

Abby Hopper:  Yeah, so solar, solar installer is the number one fast appearing job and wind technician is the number two.

 

[00:30:19]

Bill Loveless:  Just to correct me on the solar.

 

[00:30:21]

Abby Hopper:  Well, I’m just saying.  We go back and forth about that.

 

[00:30:25]

Bill Loveless:  So, I want to finish up discussing the topic.  It comes up a lot in my discussion in this podcast and that is diversity and I know, it’s a big issue for you as we saw again recently when the association held a woman’s empowerment summit in Chicago, I believe.  And while there are a number of senior women in executive positions in the industry, I’m thinking of an example, Julia Han of the Smart Electric Power Line.  Several other women in similar positions among the trade associations and companies.  Women still represent a relatively small portion of the workforce in solar.  So one statistic from a 2014 but it said at the time about 22% women represented about 22% of the solar workforce then, that was according to a group called women in solar.  What needs to be done.

 

[00:31:17]

Abby Hopper:  That’s a great question.  So, the most recent data, I saw was from last year of 27%.  So we have made incremental progress but certain not enough.  What needs to be done, I think are a couple of things.  I think women need to understand that solar is an option, right that solar, what are the kinds of jobs that are available on solar and what are the pathways to get there? So a lot of our jobs, I told you, you know are in the field, right.  If you’re building big power plants which is basically what we are doing, you’re out in the field, a lot of construction jobs, a lot of electrical jobs, lot of engineering jobs.  Those aren’t historically fields where there are a lot of women involved.  And so, creating pathways for women to be involved in that, I think having role models, right, like Julie has a great example.  _____ [00:32:06] and energy storage like showing women that yeah, you can actually sort of rise to the ranks and become heads of some of these organizations is important.  And the conversation we had in Chicago in the women empowerment summit was about how do you get women, people from diverse background, all kinds of diverse background.  How do you get them to the door? How do you hire them? And then how do you retain them, right once they get there? How do you keep them? And then how do you promote them? And so, understanding that the path for diverse candidates and diverse employees might not be the exact same path as for the more traditional employees and being open as an employer and open as a company to recognize that and create pathways is important.

 

[00:32:50]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  Something that just takes time.

 

[00:32:53]

Abby Hopper:  It does take time but it takes intention, right like you can’t just hope that it’s gonna happen.  I don’t think.  I think, you have to make a plan, implement the plan.  The leader needs to speak about the plan and you need to hold yourself accountable to that plan.

 

[00:33:06]

Bill Loveless:  And you made that a priority.

 

[00:33:07]

Abby Hopper:  Yeah, absolutely.

 

[00:33:09]

Bill Loveless:  Well, Abby, thanks for joining us on the Columbia Energy Exchange.  I’ve enjoyed our conversation.

 

[00:33:13]

Abby Hopper:  It’s a pleasure.  Thank you so much for being here.

 

[00:33:16]

Bill Loveless:  Well, that’s our show for today.  I hope you enjoyed it.  If you have a minute give us a rating on your favorite podcast platform and for more information on the Columbia Energy Exchange or the Center on Global Energy Policy, find us on the web at Energypolicy.Columbia.edu and on social media at Columbiauenergy.  For the Columbia Energy Exchange, I’m Bill Loveless.  We’ll be back again next week with another conversation.