It’s time to “Let Pennsylvania Shine!”
By: Anthony Campisi
The Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering legislation that could expand access to solar power to businesses, residents and local communities across the commonwealth.
The legislation, pending in both the state House of Representatives and Senate, would authorize the creation of “community solar” projects, which refer to small, local solar facilities shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced. The voluntary projects are developed at no cost to taxpayers.
Today we are launching a news service to cover this important development in Pennsylvania energy policy.
“Let Pennsylvania Shine” is an effort of the PA Community Solar Economic Alliance, a broad-based coalition of small businesses, families, farmers and industry working to bring community solar to Pennsylvania and drive economic development at a time of great need.
We will keep you up to date on the latest developments of the campaign to bring community solar to the commonwealth and chronicle the issue from every angle, taking you behind the scenes to uncover the facts behind community solar and track the bill’s progress.
We’ll interview community solar developers, visit farms where community solar projects could be located, talk to bill sponsors and more. We’ll also unpack the economic impact that a community solar program could bring to Pennsylvania communities, many of whom are reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A robust community solar program in Pennsylvania can bring desperately needed investment, tax revenue and jobs into communities that are struggling to regain their footing,” said Leslie Elder, Mid-Atlantic regional director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a national coalition of businesses and non-profits working to expand community solar. “Community solar projects bring more than just a homegrown energy source and savings to customers and businesses. They are also proven to increase property values while helping to preserve family farms by giving farmers a new revenue source. And best of all, they do all of this without requiring funding from taxpayers.”
Community solar projects throughout the U.S. produced more than 2,000 megawatts of energy through the end of 2019, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Despite their popularity nationally, utility regulations in Pennsylvania currently prevent these types of projects from being constructed and operated.
HB531 and SB705, which are being sponsored by Representative Aaron Kaufer in the state House of Representatives and Senator Mario Scavello in the Senate, respectively, would eliminate regulatory red tape and create a community solar program that allows all Pennsylvania businesses and families to sign up for community solar projects, regardless of their income level or if they own their home.
If passed, the legislation would also provide significant opportunities for Pennsylvania’s farmers to generate additional monthly revenue by leasing small parts of their land to community solar developers. This additional reoccurring revenue can support a farmer’s operations and could be the difference between saving the farm or selling it off. It’s also the reason why the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has publicly supported HB531 and SB705 .
“We and the solar industry have solar projects ready to build across the state,” said Brent Alderfer, Founder and CEO of Radnor, PA-based Community Energy Inc. “Solar projects create good paying jobs and generate significant tax and direct economic benefits to the communities where they are based. To get moving on new jobs and new tax revenues for hard-hit communities, the Pennsylvania legislature needs to step up to the plate and open the solar market in Pennsylvania.”
Advocates for community solar point to large numbers of jobs created in states with legislatively enabled community solar programs. In Minnesota, for example, where the state is home to one-third of the nation’s community solar projects, community solar employed more than 4,000 workers as of 2018.
Utilizing economic modeling developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), advocates have also developed projections for the economic potential community solar could bring to Pennsylvania. According to the model 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of community solar development in the commonwealth would yield a 75% increase in solar jobs and over $2 billion in local economic benefits, including $210 million in property tax revenues.
The General Assembly returns to session in September and community solar is expected to be on the legislature’s agenda.