Ilan Gutherz, VP of Policy and Strategy, takes us into the complicated, exciting, and rewarding world of solar and energy storage policy making
While the cost of commercial solar has come down in some markets enough to be competitive with conventional energy, wide-scale deployment depends on supportive policies. Regulations differ from state to state and can make or break the growth of solar and energy storage adoption. Momentum and support for clean energy deployment is increasing among state legislators regardless of party ties. As a result we’re seeing more states viewing solar as a way to power the grid and create jobs, but there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to enacting policies that can be supported by the utilities, customers, legislators, environmentalists, and the solar industry.
Realizing this, Borrego Solar invests in its own policy team. With directors based around the country, the company takes a leadership approach to further clean energy policy in various states, while also partnering with SEIA and other national trade associations to support its efforts on the Federal level.
Ilan Gutherz, VP of policy and strategy at Borrego Solar, said the policy team plays an important role in the company’s business development and accomplishing its mission to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy. But the policies the team helps write and pass benefit the entire industry and its customers, helping solar and storage continue to grow in existing markets and opening up access to new segments.
Here are some more of Gutherz’s thoughts on Borrego’s policy team and its work.
1. Tell me about Borrego’s policy team.
Right now the policy team consists of five people: myself, and three directors of policy and business development. Haley Orvedal represents the Northeast, Sarah Wochos leads the Midwest, and Rachel Bird represents us in the West. Additionally, we have a manager of analysis, Ryan Gerlach, who is integral to helping us provide relevant input to policy making processes around the country.
We’re actively looking to expand the team with individuals to focus on interconnection policy and wholesale transmission-level policy.
2. Why did Borrego decide to invest in this policy team?
The solar space, and the energy space in general, is one of the most highly regulated industries. The biggest risks and opportunities for us have to do with changes in policy and rules. There are rules for how we connect to the grid, tax rules; rules about greenhouse gas programs and who pays for pollution; rules about how to account for and buy and sell power; and rules that address incentives and disincentives for different kinds of power and products.
All of those rules directly affect our business and how successful we are in achieving our mission of accelerating the adoption of renewable energy. Borrego has understood for a long time that it makes sense for us, as a business in the energy space, to have a team that’s focused on that great risk — and opportunity — that is the policy and regulatory space.
Additionally, in terms of achieving our mission to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, we do that every day by deploying our projects around the country. But the other way we can do that is by investing in policy resources and lobbying to help move public policy in a direction that supports the entire clean energy industry.
3. What kind of work does the team do and what do you hope it will accomplish?
Our team has several functions. Firstly, our directors help our business teams understand what is happening on the policy side in their areas. It’s important that our business teams are aware of how rules and laws are changing and what’s coming down the pike. Many of our projects take years to develop and come to fruition, so we need to be paying very close attention to what regulators and legislators are doing and make sure we’re not surprised. Any policy issues that arise need to be taken account of and planned for.
The second role of the team is advocacy. This can include writing comments and working with trade associations and other companies in the space, as well as our customers, landowners, and subcontractors to advocate for better clean energy policies.
Finally, because policy has a big part in determining whether we can develop and build projects, the team also functions as the business development arm of the company. We’re constantly looking for market opportunities that are developing due to changing policies and bringing those opportunities back to the company to ensure we’re investing in new growth as it comes up.
4. What areas or markets are you most optimistic about from a policy perspective?
I think in most parts of the country, clean energy has gone from something that used to be a more liberal and democratic idea to being something that really crosses party lines. Now we’re starting to see states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and those in the Midwest start to really take clean energy and solar seriously and understand that there are better ways to power the grid, clean ways, associated with jobs.
I’m most optimistic that we’re going to see a lot more energy storage over the next couple of years as more states realize the value that storage is uniquely positioned to provide. We’re already seeing that in Massachusetts, California, and New York. I’m hopeful we’ll start seeing that in other places as well, especially where we have a lot of solar production like Illinois, New Jersey, and some of the other leading markets for distributed solar. On the utility-scale side, we’re already seeing a lot of storage go in all around the country as the cost of the technology comes down.
5. Describe the successes your team has seen or helped create so far?
I’m pretty proud of the work we’ve done in Massachusetts with helping to develop its new SMART program with a storage component. Similarly, we’ve been leaders in developing New York’s community solar policies along side SEIA and the state’s public service commission.
We’ve also had a number of successes in California, such as making sure that net metering policy is stable for customers. I expect that we’re going to be very active in working on the next phase of net metering there as well. Finally, our director in the Midwest was instrumental in getting major energy legislation passed and has been leading the industry’s efforts to implement that state’s brand new solar program.
6. Why is this team’s work important to the industry?
Because Borrego is a market leader in so many states, we’ve taken a role in pushing for policies that certainly benefit us but also benefit our competitors, the rest of the industry, and, most importantly our customers who want cleaner air and lower electricity rates. These policies generally support solar and energy storage programs that are functional and work well for the entire industry. Through our work at the state level and supporting SEIA’s work on the Federal level, we’ve taken a leadership role in pushing policies that ensure the entire solar and storage industry can thrive.