Why is Pennsylvania So Far Behind Neighboring States on Solar Implementation And What Can We Do About It?
Implementing solar energy technology, particularly solar PV, offers enormous opportunities including job creation and workforce development and economic growth. If properly implemented, it can also produce electricity bill savings for everyone (not only those with solar). Studies have shown that generating 10% of Pennsylvania’s electricity from solar energy, for example, would save about $300 million annually from reduced wholesale electricity costs, by significantly reducing the need for operating expensive peaker plants to meet high system peak loads. Even by reaching 5% solar penetration, all electric customers across Pennsylvania, those with or without solar on their properties, would begin to benefit from electric rate reduction.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, increasing the solar goal to 10% would create 60,000 to 100,000 jobs. Further, Finding Pennsylvania Solar Future Study and the Community Energy PA Solar Study showed that increasing the solar goal to 10% would create $9.2 million in private capital investment, $5.3 billion in local economic benefit, over $4 billion in wage earnings from over 65,000 new jobs, $228 million in local tax revenue, and $2.3 billion in farm lease. Similarly, the 2030 Solar Generation study by PowerGEM/CEI showed that requiring 10% of Pennsylvania’s electricity to come from solar would generate more than a billion dollars every year in fuel savings, cost savings, and avoided public health damages.
Most importantly for the Lehigh Valley, solar can help to preserve farmland that otherwise might be lost due to economic hardships. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Pennsylvania lost more than 6,000 farms between 2012 and 2017, an addition to more than 700 dairy farms in the past two years. Having solar installed on part of the farm can provide supplemental income that can help sustain Pennsylvania farms. Landowners are paid about a fixed annual price of $800 to $1,400 per acre to lease land for solar development for 20 years or more. For struggling farmers, this additional income can allow them to keep their farms. And unlike farmland that has been sold and lost to residential developments or construction for warehouses or shopping centers, the solar leased farmland will be returned to an improved fertile soil condition after the solar equipment is removed at the end of the lease.
However, Pennsylvania compared to our neighboring states, is very far behind in installed solar capacity per capita, with Pennsylvania placing second to last behind Ohio. Not surprisingly, this has put our state far behind in solar jobs. Pre-COVID, the growth in solar jobs in PA was only 0.3%, according to the 2019 Solar Foundation Solar Job Census, compared to 7.5% for Maryland, 5.7% for Delaware, 10.4% for New York, and even Ohio with 1.7%.
This is truly a shame as the solar installer trade is the fastest growing job sector across the country and the solar energy field also includes engineers, electricians, surveyors, real estate agents, attorneys, financiers, laborers, manufacturers and others. These are good, high-paying jobs that Pennsylvania is failing to generate. Why is Pennsylvania so far behind our neighboring states?
There are multiple reasons, including the following:
- The solar requirement in Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio standards remains at .5% which was reached last year. The AEPS is the mandated renewable energy requirement imposed on Pennsylvania’s utility companies with respect to the energy they must procure on behalf of their customers who have failed to sign up with an alternative energy supplier. However, increasing the AEPS requires legislation, the prospects of which remain uncertain.
- It is illegal in Pennsylvania to build community solar projects. Community solar projects are large solar installations run by solar companies who sign up customers for a share of the solar output and a deduction in the customer’s bill just like if the solar panels had been installed on the customer’s property. Fixing this requires legislation, the prospects of which are uncertain.
So what can we do? Aside from speaking to our state senators and representatives about the issue, the Lehigh Valley could lead the way in increasing solar penetration through a solar cooperative. A solar cooperative consists of a group of people who negotiate jointly with a solar installer to install solar on their properties. The larger the grSoup, the greater the negotiation power. This is currently being successfully done by a non-profit organization called “Solar United Neighbors”. Check out their website and join us on April 13 for more information about this creative way to begin increasing solar implementation in Pennsylvania.