Friday, March 31, 2023

Bipartisan House, Senate Members Introduce Legislation Establishing Real Community Solar Program To Help Address Home/Business Energy Spikes Caused By Volatile Natural Gas Prices

On March 30, legislation-- Senate Bill 550 and soon a House companion-- creating a real community solar program was introduced in the General Assembly by a bipartisan group of legislators.

The legislation would enable access to solar energy for all Pennsylvanians, including small businesses, regardless of their ability to install solar panels on their own roofs. 

Current Pennsylvania law prohibits community solar and this bill would provide the green light for over 230 community solar projects to move forward across 48 Pennsylvania counties and save Pennsylvanians who subscribe over $30 million annually. 

“Rising costs and energy bills are very real here inPennsylvania, and we must help find creative solutions to maintain reasonable utility costs,” said Sen. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe). “Community solar will include another option to further develop a diverse energy portfolio in Pennsylvania, leading us to a brighter and cost-efficient energy future. Creating a market for additional electricity options is a way to keep consumer costs down.”

Senate Bill 550 will be joined by companion legislation in the House, prime sponsored by Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh).

“My district has a lot of apartment buildings and multi-tenant homes, and right now they’re being excluded from a renewable, affordable energy source just because they don’t have a single family home in the suburbs,” said Rep. Schweyer. “Clean energy shouldn’t be exclusive or inaccessible; my constituents deserve options to lower their energy bills, especially as traditional rates continue to rise.”

Community solar, which exists in 22 other states, refers to local solar facilities shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credits on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced. 

Community solar provides homeowners, renters, and businesses equal access to the benefits of solar energy generation regardless of the physical attributes or ownership of their home or business. 

“Community solar is a critical part of a comprehensive energy portfolio, but current law and red tape prevents the state from taking advantage of the many benefits this form of energy can bring,” said Matthew Hargarten, Vice President of Campaigns for the Coalition for Community Solar Access. “This legislation is good for consumers and small businesses who will see savings on their electric bills; farmers and communities who will see new financial opportunities and tax revenue; and workers who will see thousands of family sustaining jobs come online.”

These projects will be funded through private investment and will create thousands of local good paying jobs including electricians, installers, contractors, and the professionals involved in investment and site preparation. 

A Penn State economic study found that community solar projects are projected to create 12,000 total jobs in the Commonwealth and generate a $1.8 billion stimulus for the economy.  

“There’s simply no reason that skilled and able workers are being kept on the sidelines for projects like this,” said Robert Bair, President of the Pennsylvania Building Trades. “The design, construction, and operation of these solar projects will keep thousands of folks in family sustaining jobs for years to come. We’re ready to get to work and look forward to seeing a responsible community solar marketplace in Pennsylvania.”

Consumers have seen major increases in their utility bills over the past year. Among seven of the largest utilities that serve default-rate energy service in the Commonwealth, all averaged a quarterly increase of over 15% and two (Citizens Electric & PPL) saw increases of over 60% in a nine-month span. 

[In Pennsylvania, electricity rates have been driven by the price spikes in natural gas costs caused by volatile foreign markets.]

Community solar is able to reduce cost to consumers by supplying energy to the grid when it needs it most on hot days when prices are the highest. 

Community solar also solves another problem faced by Pennsylvanians: what to do with multi-generational farmland, brownfields, and reclaimed mining lands. 

These projects can be located almost anywhere. For example, farmers can benefit from the cost savings and extra income stream of solar without having to take farmland out of production, saving their farms for future generations. 

Ground mounted solar arrays can significantly benefit a farm’s soils and many projects include native plants and pollinators to help improve the local ecology.

"As a dairy farmer, sustainability is at the core of how we function.  A key element of sustainability is diversification. Community solar provides me diversification both financially and agronomically,” said Paul Mason. “The unique and necessary part of community solar is that it makes small (5-15 acre) projects viable. I can not give up 100 acres of ground for a solar project, but I can find a sloped, 7 acres of a field that would benefit from a year round grass cover and put some solar panels on that ground."


-- WESA: Putting Equity In Energy: Solar United Neighbors, Partners Celebrate Solar Program For Low-Income Homeowners In Allegheny County

-- Marcellus Drilling News/Argus Media: Wild Swings In Natural Gas Price ‘Here To Stay For Foreseeable Future’

-- Marcellus Drilling News: Consultant Suggests Drillers Fight Low Natural Gas Prices By Choking Wells 50% [To Reduce Supply]

Related Articles:

-- Landowners Urge Lawmakers To Pass Real Community Solar Energy Bills To Give $1.8 Billion Boost To PA Economy, Help Farmers As Senate Committee Meets

-- Penn State Study Finds Passing Bills To Authorize Community Solar Would Support 12,000 Jobs, Generate $1.8 Billion In Economic Impact For PA

-- Farm Bureau, Solar Advocates Support Bipartisan Community Solar Legislation That Will Generate $1.8 Billion In Economic Benefits

-- Op-Ed: Community Solar Offers Bright Spot Of Revenue Opportunity - PA Conservative Energy Forum

[Posted: March 30, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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