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How two states support renewable energy (or not)

July 30, 2014

Solar power is turning into a growth industry. The total installed solar capacity in the U.S. has doubled in the last several years, and there has been a rapid drop in the average price per watt of solar-generated electricity. Some experts now predict a doubling of solar PV panels on homes and small businesses every two years, creating a growth industry with the potential to become a significant job-creator. Yet, Pennsylvania seems to be missing the message and, if it is not careful, the burgeoning solar energy economy will simply pass it by.

At a time when states should be creating incentives for people to install solar PV panels and other renewable sources of energy, PA’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) recently proposed rule changes unfriendly to small-scale solar generation. Analysis by the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA) indicates that one of the proposed rules would allow the PUC to grant permission to utility companies to charge a monthly fee to customers who operate their own solar generating systems. (Talk about a disincentive!) A second new rule would restrict how much solar power a utility’s “customer-generator” could produce, limiting it no more than 110% of the customer’s annual electricity usage. (Don’t we need to be developing more renewable electricity, not less?) In addition, according to the Sierra Club, the PUC’s proposed rule changes “threaten third-party ownership models (such as leasing and power purchase agreements) for solar and other distributed generation.”

The PUC is accepting public comment on its proposed rule changes until August 4. Both MAREA and the Sierra Club have sent out action alerts asking Pennsylvania citizens to send comments to defend rooftop solar by rejecting these rules changes. Or one can contact the PUC directly by writing, calling or via email (refer to docket number L-2014-2404361). Official comments for the record should be sent to the PUC’s Secretary’s Bureau, P.O. Box 3265, Harrisburg, PA 17105-3265.

The bigger truth, however, is that Pennsylvania’s renewable energy policies in general are woefully inadequate. The commonwealth seems to be stuck in its fossil fuel past. It continues to pursue policies that support coal production, a declining industry that peaked in PA in 1998 and has since seen production decline 27% (2010 data:, and second, it strongly supports its natural gas industry, declining so far to impose a severance or extraction tax. (Just imagine a PA natural gas industry tax that channeled funds to create a vibrant renewable energy industry.)