- Solar Solutions
- Our Company
November 27, 2019
Sun Light & Power interviewed Gary Gerber about his re-election to the board of CALSSA, which fights on behalf of individuals and businesses for solar rights. Here’s what he had to say.
SLP: Gary, you were recently re-elected to the Board of Directors of the California Solar & Storage Association [CALSSA] for the sixth time. Congratulations! How does it feel?
Gary: I suppose it’s an accomplishment I should be proud of. (Smiles.)
SLP: Why do you feel you were re-elected?
Gary: Well, I think I have good name recognition. That's the key, people know who I am. I was the Board President for four years (2007 through 2011) and I have been with the organization almost since its inception.
SLP: Tell me about that.
Gary: Well let's go all the way back to the beginning. CALSSA, which was at the time CALSEIA, was founded in the mid ‘70s. I think it was 1976 - the same year Sun Light & Power was founded. Solar was just a fledgling industry at the time. It was very much an unknown as to what CALSEIA would be able to do. It was mostly because of the impetus of a few hardy souls who decided it would be best to have some influence in Sacramento for the solar industry. We owe a huge, huge debt of gratitude to the people who pulled that together in the early years.
I was not one of those original CALSEIA founders, although soon after it was founded, I joined the local chapter. That’s really where things happened. In fact, we were the Greater Bay Area Regional Chapter - GBARC. I was extremely active locally, part of their leadership, and its last President. Because of that, I really wasn't active in Sacramento. I think the folks who were physically in the Sacramento area tended to be more active at the state level because of their proximity to the Capital.
SLP: How did CALSEIA evolve?
Gary: In the mid ‘80s the solar industry was decimated by the loss of all of the state and federal solar incentives. Our GBARC group essentially folded up tent and left. But at that point I was at the peak of my position there. At that time, I think we had up to 120, maybe 150 members of GBARC. The entire state organization was probably only a few hundred. So, we were the dominant group near as I could tell, and again, very active.
Now if you fast forward to the late ‘90s up to 2000, we were at the beginning of the new era in solar. That's when we went from a largely solar hot water organization to the beginnings of a predominantly solar electric organization. In those early years of the new era, it was like a restart. At Sun Light & Power, we were at our smallest company size ever. We'd gotten through the 15-year solar doldrums from about 1985 to 2000. We were finally emerging from that and we were rebuilding. I think the whole industry was newly building with a whole new group of folks that were focusing more on the solar electric side.
At that point I started getting more interested in working at the state level. It was basically a question of being involved at the state level or being involved with a very fledgling small local chapter presence so I decided to get involved at the state level.
Now back to answering your original question. What got me elected to the board is essentially the recognition of our company name, and my name, the longevity of being in the solar business for 43 years, and, our company having a reputation of integrity.
SLP: Gary, what is your role now? What is your responsibility now that you're on the board?
Gary: The primary responsibility of any board member is to participate in the four quarterly meetings. The board members are expected to be active, which means number one, you need to be in on one or more committees. We now have staff that is extremely capable to help us, close to ten people I believe, so it's really grown since I was President of the board.
Also, I think an unspoken board expectation (and this is true of many non-profit boards like ours) is to participate financially. This is not explicitly stated when you run for a board seat. I do know this happens in charitable non-profits that are not business oriented - board members are expected to be donors to these organizations. That's not an explicit expectation at CALSSA, but we do contribute.
The reality is we all owe this organization a huge debt of gratitude. There isn't any one entity that takes more of the credit, or has more responsibility for creating a very, very strong solar market in California than CALSEIA/CALSSA. And if you recognize that your business essentially depends on this organization's health, you're shooting yourself in the foot if you're not donating as heavily as you can. It's so effective. The money that this group spends to go up against the multi-billion-dollar PG&E's of the world is so small compared to what the big utilities spend. If you compare what we spend with those huge numbers, it's amazing what this organization accomplishes.
SLP: That's Incredible. What does it mean to you personally to be re-elected for a sixth term?
Gary: Well, it certainly makes me feel good about the work I do. I am fortunate that I get to do what I love. This is just an opportunity for me to do more to support the industry I helped get started back in the ‘70s. I have a lot of attachment to the solar industry personally. It would disappoint me if people didn't see me as a leader in this industry. I certainly have led my own company to a high level of success. Sun Light & Power is now a 100% employee-owned business, and that feels really good. So yeah, I'm honored, and I'm gratified, and it makes me happy that folks feel that I'm still able to contribute.
Gary Gerber President and CEO, Sun Light & Power, 2019