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Dan Sullivan

Leading the charge in struggle for solar industry's future

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A recent meeting of the newly created San Diego chapter of the California Solar Energy Industries Association proved one thing: Dan Sullivan is admired in the San Diego solar community. Attendees there revered Sullivan as a pioneer in the local industry.

Sullivan, 35, began his business eight years ago, initially as Sullivan Electric.

He created his own path into solar at the time, leaving his prior job as a foreman with Neal Electric to follow his gut, which told him there was a major future for the solar industry. Before leaving, he tried pitching a larger focus in solar work to his bosses.

His ideas were generally dismissed, and he eventually decided he trusted himself more than his bosses. He started his own company out of the garage of a vacant home he was helping to remodel. Living in and working out of the garage as a one-man company, he lined up a growing list of solar work.

The company grew into Sullivan Solar Power, and is now 86 employees strong with three Southern California offices. Sullivan’s reputation as a pioneer gained traction through 2012, as he fought to reduce the impact of potential obstacles to the solar industry.

“The local solar industry in San Diego this past year has come under attack,” Sullivan said, referring to the general rate case brought forward by San Diego Gas & Electric.

The rate case contained proposals for charges that could severely harm or even kill business for local solar installers and manufacturers, Sullivan said. Taking charge, he gathered a few people from within his company and got to defending their livelihood.

What came of the group was the San Diego Solar Coalition, focused on collecting vocal and financial support from colleagues in the industry. The core group making up the coalition ended up consisting of six invested companies.

“Our concern was obviously self-preservation, but also our customers, because we promised our customers that they would see a certain return on their investment if they went solar,” Sullivan said.

The coalition began working with local governments and succeeded in having resolutions passed in opposition to SDG&E’s proposals, taking them to the Public Utilities Commission.

Major portions of the rate case were mitigated as a result of the efforts. But the statewide issue of caps on net energy metering still has yet to be resolved.

Working with a statewide coalition, Sullivan and others succeeded in buying a couple of years for the industry on the net metering issue, with the PUC agreeing that the methodology in creating the caps on solar installations eligible for net metering was flawed and needed revision.

But the fight isn’t over for Sullivan.

“The net metering cap issue will come up again as more and more systems are installed,” Sullivan said.

In order to deal with that, he and others are already working with legislators to keep a reasonable solution within reach, Sullivan said. He expects that fight to keep him busy through 2013.

“We’re definitely going to be engaged.”

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