Let's Schmooze Scott Sklar, Sunny Side Up

Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 1998
EES North America

SCOTT SKLAR, WHO SHOWERS WITH SOLAR-HEATED water, who drinks his skim milk from his solar-powered refrigerator, who commutes via solar-powered car, who tells time by a solar-powered watch, who wears a sun-faced ring and sun-spotted tie, sweeps into a French restaurant on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C.

Sklar, who has lived the Solar Energy Industries Association for more than a decade, is bald up top, but his hair sprouts out around that spot in grey-brown brillo. Glasses hug his eyes. His beard threatens to strangle him and his mustache pitches in.

Today's Monday, a sunny Monday, the start of the work week for this executive director-solar lobbyist.

7:50 A.M. Sklar is only five minutes late (the watch?),

powered today by his maroon Dodge Caravan, vanity plate "S Sklar." The solar auto is on the chocks, "something wrong with a solenoid." Hey, the thing runs (em backward, "very, very well, but that's a little dangerous here."

Here? In Washington, D.C.? Appropriate, no?

And as appropriate for the solar energy/renewables lobby?

The solar lobby, or business, earning $1.5 billion a year these days, is something many utilities toyed with in the 1980s. More have found it worthwhile in the 1990s, with the advent of spin-off energy services companies and more straightforward tax credits that make it profitable to offer customers solar-powered heating and appliances.

And after all, 80 percent of SEIA's companies weren't around in the early '80s to offer services to utilities. Even today, 75 percent of their solar products ship to the Third World.

But it's likely the energy industry will get to know Sklar better as states fight for clean energy portfolios and other environmental benefits in restructuring legislation. California, for instance, has set aside $54 million to provide rebates for wind, solar and fuel cells. Even the mammoth Tennessee Valley Authority is soliciting solar and other renewable proposals to provide customers a wider choice of power sources.

Envisioned federal deregulation legislation also promises to carry more renewable and environmental protections. Whether protections are cut and left on the floor of Congress remains to be seen, but as Sklar learned long ago, solar is a "political sweetener." Helping the campaign for sun power and renewables is the Clinton Administration, whose ballyhooed Million Solar Roofs program is aimed at outfitting government, commercial and residential roofs with solar panels. Public demand, too, will fuel "green e."

Even so, when will solar pack a Sunday punch?

If there's an agenda for today, and every day in Sklar's world, it's how to underwrite the Million Roofs program, announced by the president last June 27 without a funding formula.

A single day with Sklar reveals the hopes and the realities of solar's future. It provides a taste of Hill leanings on renewables, and gives a snapshot of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency support. (That picture is not always sunny.)

Sklar juices up this day and many others at La Colline, where a chateaubriand can be had for $41.

Sklar, shedding the black trench coat that hides his peripatetic 6-foot, 4-inch frame, steams toward