Jigar Shah and Karl Rábago talk policy, pragmatism at NYSES event

There are a few people in the solar industry who are forces to be reckoned with, on the basis of their accomplishments as well as sheer personality. On Tuesday night in Manhattan, two of them came together in one room – SunEdison founder and serial entrepreneur Jigar Shah (currently the CEO of Generate Capital), and Karl Rábago, director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center at Pace Law School, and the godfather of the “Value of Solar” tariff.

At the discussion hosted by New York Solar Energy Society, Shah and Rábago covered a range of topics from the current status of the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) process in New York State to the pending shut-down of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant. Rábago provided insightful and detailed commentary on a number of issues, and Shah was his usual outspoken and extremely knowledgeable self.

In response to the first question, Shah was already courting controversy, noting that the growth and maturity of the solar industry had resulted in a split with the environmental movement, where at times the two groups were taking different positions on issues.

This most famously came to a head when 350.org co-Founder Bill McKibben opposed the compromise achieved by the solar industry that led to the extension of the 30% Investment Tax Credit through 2020, and its step-down thereafter. This was contrasted by Shah’s insistence that the solar industry must bargain hard but be willing to cut deals that are in our long-term best interest, such as the legislative compromise that led to the makeover of Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard.

The conversation took a rather technical turn when discussing the current phase of REV. The two panelists noted that while REV is starting to lay out some important groundwork, that there is still a long way to go, and additional questions were raised about whether or not entrepreneurs are ready to fill the tremendous gap in services that will arise.

Rábago, a policy heavyweight, revealed his poetic side when he described the REV process as a supernova that is expanding in a nebulous form to take in other discrete policy initiatives, and in the future will collapse in on itself to form a more concrete set of systems.

Issues about future valuation of solar revealed some telling insights as well. While Rábago was the architect of the Value of Solar Methodology at Austin Energy and Jigar Shah is a strong supporter of the approach, Shah noted that utilities’ archaic systems for measuring end-customer electricity flows and billing are woefully inadequate to be able to handle sophisticated methodologies for valuation. And while Rábago described grandfathering of net metering as an “off-ramp” before moving to a better system, Shah cautioned that the state of utility systems may mean that net metering, or something like it, will be around for a while.

But while the conversation had its technical moments, Shah was insistent that renewable energy proponents need to get better at communicating in simple messages that will fit on bumper stickers, with his “Got Storage?” one of the memorable quips of the night.

Some of the most interesting moments of the evening were more personal. When a young engineer asked Rábago and Shah what he should be reading and studying, Rábago advised the man to “saw the wood that was in front of him”, and perfect his skills in his trade, while not limiting his intellectual curiosity.

pv magazine Publisher and Managing Director Eckhart Gouras served as master of ceremonies for the event, and pv magazine Americas Editor Christian Roselund as moderator. New York Solar Energy Society holds monthly organizational meetings, as well as regular public education events such as Tuesday night’s.

More information on NYSES and its events can be found here.