When the alarm went off at 4:30 am, in the pitch black without even the dogs stirring, I mumbled to myself “Am I really going to do this?” After a moment’s hesitation, I answered myself by hustling to get ready and on the road to Springfield, hoping traffic and storms wouldn’t keep me from arriving on time. As the sun crept over the horizon, my mind began to wonder what my first ISEA “Solar Lobby Day” would hold for me. Would the rest of the participants welcome me, a newcomer, to the process? Would I know what to say when the time came? Would we get to talk to any legislators and would that matter? As I would find out soon, the answer to all those questions would be an emphatic “Yes!”
I arrived right on time to Café Moxo for the pre-lobbying breakfast and briefing and was greeted with a warm smiles and hot coffee- both much appreciated after over 3 hours on the road. I had missed the prior evening’s Legislative Solar Social, so it felt a bit like the first day of high school where everyone else seemed to know one another. However, I was quickly welcomed into conversation and community by fellow solar enthusiasts. Drawn together in the backroom of this tiny café just around the corner of the capitol were representatives of every aspect of the solar industry. I met people involved in planning, finance, land acquisition, installation, marketing, environmental policy, and owners of arrays, just like me. All of us came from all over Illinois and even beyond to improve the solar energy landscape of the Land of Lincoln. Some of us were strangers and competitors in commerce, but all were friendly, energized, and united in purpose for the day’s work.
ISEA Executive Director Lesley McCain and board members Kevin Borgia and Sarah Wochos called us together and gave us pointers for the day as we got to know our groups. We formulated talking points and strategies to ensure we stayed on message and made the most of what often would be a few fleeting minutes with a state senator or representative, or more often their assistants. With a folder full of materials in one hand and a coffee in the other, we were off to the capitol with a checklist of legislators to lobby. My fellow team members, Tim Powers from Inovateus, Amy Heart from Sun Run, and Brian Haug from Continental Electrical Construction, emboldened me with their confidence and experience as we headed off to the offices on our list.
We visited dozens of offices that day and talked with many senators and representatives touting the merits of the bills before them on solar. Our team, representing so many different aspects of solar, naturally settled into a pitch team, with each of us sharing our perspective. Almost everyone we spoke with was receptive to our advocacy, especially as we touted the jobs and economic growth solar energy brings to Illinois. With members of my team representing companies that were expanding into our state, it was easy for us to highlight the real progress that Illinois is making in solar energy. The highlight of the day for me was speaking with my state representative and getting him to indicate that he would support our legislation. As a former social studies teacher, I really felt like I was living the idea of democracy in action that I had talked about with my students for all of those years.
Most of the approximately 50 members of our ISEA Solar Lobby Day team ended the day where it began, back at Café Moxo. We shared another meal and stories from the day. As I got back on the road and prepared for the long drive home, I had none of the trepidation from the morning. It had been replaced with energy and enthusiasm- I met new people, I had fun, and, in some small way, I made a difference for solar energy in Illinois. I can’t wait to go back next year.