Highlights of SEIA Webinar Coronavirus — Implications for the U.S. Solar Industry

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On Friday March 20th, SEIA representatives hosted an online meeting for solar professionals with updates on: (1) possible implications of COVID-19 for the solar industry; (2) actions SEIA is currently taking on behalf of the solar industry and its workers; and (3) resources for solar professionals to help their businesses and employees.

Here’s a summary highlighting the main points addressed in each section of the webinar:

1. Keeping People Safe

“It’s really important that we keep the health of our workers at the forefront of our thoughts,” president and CEO of SEIA Abby Hopper stated. She stressed the need to obey all public health orders and mandates during this time of emergency so that solar workers and the general public can remain as safe and healthy as possible.

What You Can Do

SEIA’s next priority is advocating to protect solar workers’ businesses and livelihoods at both the state and federal level.

“We understand that this is critically important to you as business owners, not just as people in the solar industry,” said Erin Duncan, Vice President of Congressional Affairs.

2. Advocating for Solar: Federal Update

SEIA’s next priority is advocating to protect solar workers’ businesses and livelihoods at both the state and federal level.

“We understand that this is critically important to you as business owners, not just as people in the solar industry,” said Erin Duncan, Vice President of Congressional Affairs.

Short-Term Federal Advocacy

Erin Duncan, Vice President of Congressional Affairs, and Jeremy Woodrum, Director of Congressional Affairs, summarized the federal actions taken as of March 21, 2020:

  • The President has signed two stimulus packages; both are largely focused on immediate public health concerns.
  • The Families-First Coronavirus Recovery Act includes early relief measures for small businesses.
  • Congress is currently negotiating a third relief package with more economic stimulus measures expected.

While solar businesses have not been specifically named in these packages, SEIA has supported early small business relief measures included in the Families-First Coronavirus Recovery Act such as small business loans and government-subsidized paid leave.

“Since 75% of solar businesses are considered small businesses (under 500 employees), we support all broad-based proposals that will help small businesses,” explained Jeremy Woodrum.

What You Can Do

This survey provides SEIA with invaluable data to help convince members of Congress that action is needed specifically for members of the solar industry.

Long-Term Federal Advocacy: SEIA’s 3 Main Asks

“Due to the disruption of work time and supply chains, many solar companies will not be able to take full advantage of the 26% ITC credit this year,” said Jeremy Woodrum. “One of our top priorities is extending the ITC so that solar companies can make up for that lost opportunity.”

Specifically, SEIA’s three main federal policy proposals are:

1. Launch a program to provide a choice of existing ITC or direct cash payments in lieu of the ITC for all qualified solar energy projects for the length of the ITC period.

2. Pass a multi-year extension of the solar ITC and postpone the corresponding placed-in-service deadlines.

3. Extend the Safe Harbor agreement to accommodate all equipment delivered by the end of 2020 and 2021.

What You Can Do

3. Advocating for Solar: State Affairs Update

Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s Vice President of State Affairs, presented a summary of COVID-19’s impact on solar at the state level:

  • Most state legislatures have suspended operations until further notice.
  • Most regulatory agencies are operating virtually (work-from-home). See SEIA’s guide to, and examples of, virtual solar permitting processes.
  • Most state actions are currently focused on public health rather than economic recovery.
  • SEIA is currently advocating for inclusion of solar businesses in defined groups for relief and special access to financing.
  • The National Conference of State Legislatures provides daily updates on state-level COVID-19 containment measures—check it regularly for all states in which your business operates.

Solar + State Shelter-In-Place Orders

  • More states are moving towards shelter-in-place mandates, which allow only essential services to continue in-person.
  • SEIA is working with state legislators to see if solar projects can be included in essential services.
  • Check SEIA’s page for regular updates on each state-mandated business closure, and how each mandate affects solar business activities in that state.
  • SEIA is currently developing guidance around such orders as they affect non-essential businesses (for example, how to move more solar activities online or over the phone).
  • Currently, SEIA continues to analyze the DHS COVID-19 recommendations (upon which most state orders are based, such as California) before finalizing guidance.
  • The details of shelter-in-place orders vary from state to state, so carefully review those for each state in which you operate.

4. Tax and Legal Implications of Supply Disruptions

John Marciano, partner of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP, addressed some concerns about the effects of supply disruption on solar projects and contracts.

His response to the main question, “Are disruptions to continuity from COVID-19 covered under the majority of solar contracts?” was a qualified yes.

“Most current solar projects were begun before Dec. 31, 2019, far before the global impact of coronavirus could possibly be predicted by most people,” he explained, “But review the Force Majeure clauses in your solar contracts. In most cases, epidemics such as COVID-19 will be covered, but it’s best to be sure. Also, remember that all solar projects finished before 2024 still count for the ITC credit.”

He pointed out that to be covered by most contracts, the only gap in service must be caused by COVID-19 effects.

Long-Term Optimism for Solar Industry

Solar has become one of the strongest industries in the nation within the last decade, and SEIA is working to keep it strong. Jeremy Woodrum stated, “SEIA, with the help of our survey, will continue to tell the positive story of solar in this country: that strong, clean renewable energy is supported by 90% of Americans, and we have the workforce to show for it. We will keep advocating for the solar industry to recover, maintain, and grow.”