Abigail “Abby” Ross Hopper’s ascension to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) top spot, held on an interim basis by long-time SEIA staffer Tom Kimbis after previous President and CEO Rhone Resch stepped down in April, represents two subtle but significant developments in the solar industry.
First, the choice of Hopper, a woman with important state-level experience with the solar industry, may represent a shift for the organization from the focus under Resch, which was primarily on federal policy. With the extension of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) in December 2015, most industry observers believe the bulk of future solar-policy discussions will shift to the states.
The recent decision in Arizona to end net-metering in all but name, the ballot initiative defeated in Florida that would have kept solar strictly in the hands of the state’s utilities and Nevada’s ongoing struggle to figure out how to integrate solar into its grid are just a handful of the issues Hopper seems particularly qualified to tackle.
Second, when Hopper becomes the first woman to take the reins at SEIA, the six most influential U.S. solar associations will be headed by women. Julia Hamm currently leads the Smart Electric Power Alliance, which is heavily involved in solar at the utility and community scale. Andrea Luecke leads The Solar Foundation, which puts out the annual solar jobs survey and oversees other critical industry research. Carly Rixham is in charge at the American Solar Energy Society.
In addition, Bernadette Del Chiaro and Lucy Mason run the SEIA chapters in California and Arizona respectively. Those two states rank No. 1 and No. 2 in SEIA’s Top 10 Solar State rankings, which put those two associations – and the women who run them – at the apex of influence they wield as the challenges solar faces continue to grow.
According to the industry group Women in Solar Energy (WISE), women made up only 21.6% of the solar workforce in 2014, the last year of available statistics. That realization makes Hopper’s and the others’ leadership even more crucial since the solar industry has emphasized that it wants more women to become part of the industry.
Tony Clifford, part of SEIA’s executive committee and chief development officer for Rockville, Md.-based Standard Solar, had the opportunity to observe and work with Hopper when she worked on Gov. O’Malley’s staff in Maryland. He says he’s thrilled to have someone of her caliber to lead solar’s national association.
“Abby Hopper possesses the skill set, experience and personality to effectively lead SEIA through what are undoubtedly going to be turbulent times,” Clifford said. “Her past work has demonstrated her management capabilities and provided her with broad energy experience at the public service commission, state and federal levels.”
“Of equal importance is her demonstrated ability to work both sides of the political aisle and to effectively deal with a variety of energy industry and environmental stakeholders,” Clifford added. “She is an outstanding choice to lead SEIA.”
For her part, Hopper is excited to join the solar industry at such a pivotal time.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead SEIA,” Hopper said. “I have spent my career working with all sides of the political and ideological spectrum to arrive at pragmatic approaches to energy policy, and I believe I can use that experience to serve our SEIA members.”
Update: This article was updated at 12:37 pm EST on 01/09/17 to include Carly Rixham, the leader of the American Solar Energy Sociey, bringing to six the number of influential solar association positions that are currently held by women.