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Op-Ed: The Sun Is Rising on Pennsylvania’s Solar Energy Development

December 11, 2017 01:00 PM

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DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnellSolar energy in Pennsylvania is a hot topic. Governor Wolf in November emphasized his support for several statewide initiatives to ensure that Pennsylvania gains the same economic and environmental benefits that other states are enjoying from solar energy development. 

Having started my career at DEP working in the State Energy Office, I know many longtime renewable energy advocates are excited about these pro-solar developments. However, interest in solar is increasingly moving mainstream as people see the benefits.

Jobs are one benefit. In 2016 the solar workforce increased 25 percent to almost 374,000 employees, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. Department of Labor expects jobs for solar photovoltaic installers to increase more than 100 percent through 2026. By comparison, the average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Pennsylvania needs these jobs, and under the Wolf administration, the state Solar Energy Program (SEP) is working energetically to help bring them here. SEP just announced the availability of $30 million in grants to eligible applicants—businesses, nonprofit economic development organizations, municipalities, counties, and school districts--to install new solar projects or manufacture or assemble solar equipment in the state. 

For example, a solar panel manufacturer can get $5,000 in grant money for every new job it creates within three years. An organization can get a grant of $1.50 per watt, up to $1 million, toward the cost of having solar panels installed. These grants are in addition to loan options SEP began offering in 2016.

Pennsylvanians with solar panels are likely to benefit from legislation Governor Wolf signed in November to close our borders for the solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) that utilities are required to purchase by the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act of 2004. Until now, Pennsylvania was one of only two states that allowed utilities to get SCRECs from out-of-state aggregators.  This large supply of SRECs lowered their value.

Keeping the supply in state will likely increase the value of SRECs, providing a major boost for residents with solar panels who provide electricity to aggregators. Previously the value reached up to $225 per credit, while recently, with borders open, it hovered around $15. 

DEP is leading a statewide planning group, called Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future​, that will recommend ways Pennsylvania can get 10 percent of its electricity from in-state solar power by 2030 and, in doing so, include Pennsylvanians of all demographics, not just homeowners or those in upper income brackets, in the benefits. Hundreds of leaders from local government, nonprofit community organizations, the utilities, the solar industry, academia, and business are participating in this U.S. Department of Energy-funded project. 

Other state agencies, too, are pursuing solar energy. For example, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has begun installing solar panels on state park and forest facilities, with the goal of taking them off the grid. By the end of 2018, DCNR plans to have 18 solar installations, for a savings of more than $65,000 in electricity and a 350-ton annual reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. 

As sure as the sun rises, solar energy development will bring the commonwealth economic and environmental benefits. This is good news for all Pennsylvanians.​

This Op-Ed originally appeared on PennLive​.

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