We Need to do Better

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The solar industry needs to challenge itself to follow the clarion call of the Sunrise Movement, pushing direct action to raise climate change to the top of our national discourse. This means we need to stand firmly on the right side of the issue. 

It may surprise some to learn the solar industry is not always on the right side of fighting climate change. After all, our products and services directly lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner air. Our appeal to consumers always includes at least an implied call to action on fighting climate change. But the truth is that solar’s success has attracted many elements that are in it to make a quick buck or further burnish their reputation.

We are in the midst of a climate emergency, a pivotal moment in history where our actions today will impact the very future of this planet, especially humanity itself. Now is the time to take direct action and to stand by very clear principals that put the health of the climate above all else. I support the September 20th Climate Strike and am rooting for a huge impact. Neighborhood Sun will be closed in solidarity.

I am also pledging today that we will never take money from Big Oil and help their greenwashing. It’s ridiculous to have to even make this pledge, because it should be expected from a solar leader, but believe it or not one of the country’s better-known community solar companies, Solstice Initiative,  is partially funded by Total Energy, one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world. Total Energy is pushing it’s newfound focus on sustainability, while still making massive profits off destroying the planet for oil and gas extraction. That is unacceptable.

In Maryland, Georgetown University was attempting to clear cut a 200-acre forest to build a solar farm. While well-intentioned, the plan went too far and was quashed by the state. In the meantime, the move generated a massive amount of controversy that pitted environmentalists against each other. This weakens the movement, which weakens our ability to fight Big Oil and other polluters.  Not to mention that cutting down that many acres of trees is not good for the carbon balance of our atmosphere.

Then there are the solar companies that utilize deceptive marketing or outright lying to trick consumers into purchasing their products. They use artificially high utility rates to compare, to make it seem like the customer is saving more money than they actually are, while in many cases the customers end up overpaying for their panels. This stems from the fact that there are solar companies run by Wall Street sharks who are trying to squeeze every last penny out of customers to fatten their profit margins.

Neighborhood Sun is a B Corp owned by a couple of dozen small investors, all of them locally connected. No big oil money, no shady Wall Street backing. We want to be held to the highest customer service standards in the world, so we’ve created a Customer Advocacy Board to be a representative of customers in our company. We push for positive environmental legislation, even when it doesn’t impact our bottom line or help solar in any way.

Our team of advocates and marketing experts are all here because they believe in our mission so strongly. We want to bring solar to everyone, not just the select few. That has pushed our pioneering work in Baltimore, connecting with under-represented populations and communities of color to redress the historical wrong done by environmental racism. The climate is literally burning. No more playing games. Neighborhood Sun has a lot to be proud of, but we need to do better, and the rest of the solar industry needs to follow our example.

Gary Skulnik

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