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Let's Schmooze Scott Sklar, Sunny Side Up

Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 1998

to expire for commercial and residential applications, mostly solar water heaters. SEIA had gone to the Hill two years before the expiration date to ask to scale down the credit. The Hill, he says, responded that it didn't want to deal with it. The Reagan administration was not pro-solar, and saw it as technology supported by Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown. "They politicized the technology, much like they attacked the environment groups going after nuclear," he says. In the end, the residential credit was zeroed out. Sklar says more than 150 businesses failed and 10,000 people (em installers, dealers and manufacturers (em were out of work.

But Sklar never considered leaving his post.

"This is part passion, not just a business, for me," he says.

Luckily, a few years later, George Bush came into office and wasn't ideologically predisposed to any one energy source. He ramped up R&D for the industry. Bush programs have grown and Clinton has added to that. Those two presidents increased solar thermal budgets by 60 percent from the Reagan years, when they were cut 80 percent, Sklar says.

The photovoltaic and solar thermal budget this year is $84 million. Sklar says this pales in comparison to the $2 billion to $8 billion that subsidizes conventional forms of energy annually. SEIA's 1999 fiscal year recommendation for PV and solar thermal is $136 million. The politics on that appropriation will play out on the subcommittee level in June and July. Part of that funding could include efforts to punch up the Million Solar Roofs initiative.

1:30 P.M. Sklar's back in his office, on the phone, late for a meeting with a venture capitalist from New York who's scheduled to talk about funding options for Sklar's 165 member companies and 400 companies affiliated with state and regional chapters. The man never shows.

2:02 P.M. Sklar has taken to the phone in the conference room. "Now you can hear me yell at one of my members." He berates the member gently on his voice-mail for talking about bringing a major financing company to DOE to discuss funding the solar roofs initiative, without talking to SEIA first. The talks would only set expectations that neither side can deliver. It's a White House decision, Sklar insists.

2:09 P.M. The member calls back. Sklar listens, then bursts into words: "My fears are they're going to go to DOE and they're going to walk away shaking their heads because DOE has no program¼ I would more prefer to set up the meeting in our office when I have someone from the White House, DOE, HUD, and EPA, talk about a Million Solar Roofs and blast the pants off of them."

2:22 P.M. Back in the van. It sounds like a hubcap cracks as Sklar leaves the curb. Soon he's speeding across Independence Mall to a DOE meeting at 1000 Independence Avenue. He laments the fact that he's always trying to attract private capital to the industry, as well as government capital.

As he nears the Forrestal building, he talks about solar parking meters and how