Community Solar Can Rebuild a Brighter Pennsylvania Economy
By: Anthony Campisi
As Governor Wolf prepares to deliver his annual budget address tomorrow, Pennsylvania is facing a host of challenges, the scale of which has not been seen in a century.
At this time last year, elected officials could not have predicted the economic hardship a global pandemic would inflict on our commonwealth in just a few short months. This year, we know that Pennsylvania is facing a $3.5 billion budget gap, municipalities across the state are projecting dire financial scenarios and that farmers, small businesses and unemployed Pennsylvanians are hurting. An economic boost is badly needed.
Legislators are wasting no time in tackling this challenge and have formed an Economic Task Force to help rejuvenate the commonwealth’s economic engine and get Pennsylvanians back to work. And the recent legislation passed in Harrisburg distributing federal aid for Pennsylvania renters and restaurants will certainly provide financial relief. Yet solutions that will bring both long-term investment into the commonwealth as well as an immediate injection of revenue will be necessary to develop steady and sustainable pandemic recovery across Pennsylvania.
The PA Community Solar Economic Alliance, a coalition of local industry, agriculture and clean energy advocates across Pennsylvania, is calling on Pennsylvania legislators to harness community solar as a key part of the solution for solving the commonwealth’s current budget struggles and revitalizing our economy.
The Alliance points to the inclusion of provisions to boost solar energy in the most recent round of COVID-19 relief enacted by the United States Congress- at the time, led by a Republican-controlled Senate- as an indicator that legislative leaders at all levels view the solar industry as an economic powerhouse and a bipartisan opportunity to kick-start the economy and create jobs.
“This is the best possible time for Pennsylvania legislators to take action and pass community solar legislation in order to unlock private investment and generate billions in economic impact for Pennsylvania,” said Leslie Elder, Mid-Atlantic Director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a member of the PA Community Solar Economic Alliance. “The federal stimulus package will incentivize the development of projects such as community solar, but without passing enabling legislation, the commonwealth won’t be able to take advantage of the benefits.”
A recent analysis conducted by Penn State University found that 230 planned community solar projects would generate $1.8 billion in economic impact for the commonwealth in the construction phase alone. Additional economic benefits of community solar highlighted by the report included:
The creation of 12,000 total jobs, many in the construction industry and building trades;
Annual economic output of $83 million across the many counties that would host community solar projects;
Over $570,000 in annual real property tax collections for municipalities in 48 counties; and
Consumer savings of $30 million annually for Pennsylvania electric customers who subscribe to community solar projects.
The community solar legislation awaits reintroduction this year from the prime sponsors of the bills last session- Senator Mario Scavello and Representative Aaron Kaufer. Both bills amassed significant bipartisan cosponsorship, and their cosponsor memos have been issued for the 2021-2022 legislative cycle, with both making a case for the key economic benefits of the proposal.
Describing the community solar legislation in his co-sponsorship memo, Representative Kaufer explained, “It’s a simple fix that opens a new market sector in the energy industry, spurring almost $2 billion in economic investments, creating thousands of jobs, and drives innovation, all without raising taxes.”
Senator Scavello’s memo positioned the merits of the bill similarly, arguing, “Community solar offers many benefits for both participants and the Commonwealth, including economic development through private investment and creation of local jobs through the entire solar supply chain including installers, contractors, investors and site preparation.”
“An overwhelming 77% of Pennsylvania voters want legislators to enable community solar and open up this opportunity in the commonwealth,” said Elder. “The time has never been better to pass a community solar bill that will rejuvenate our economy and help consumers, farmers, and businesses not only get back on track, but experience growth and financial benefit beyond the immediate economic recovery.”