Sen. Mario Scavello and Rep. Aaron Kaufer Speak Out on why Community Solar Would Be an Economic Boon
“It’s an opportunity to generate new tax revenue, create jobs and give farmers a lifeline,” says Kaufer.
By: Anthony Campisi
On the heels of a new Penn State economic study that found community solar projects would support 12,000 local jobs and generate $1.8 billion in economic impact, we sat down with the prime sponsors of legislation that would enable community solar projects in Pennsylvania to get their thoughts on why this program would be so beneficial for the commonwealth. The bills introduced by Rep. Aaron Kaufer and Sen. Mario Scavello--HB 531 and SB 705, respectively--refer to small, community-based solar gardens that enable local subscribers to sign up to save money on their energy bills.
Rep. Kaufer and Sen. Scavello spoke about bipartisan support for the legislation, the positive economic impact it would have for so many Pennsylvanians and the possibilities of expanded energy choice for consumers.
What led you to introduce legislation to enable community solar?
Rep. Kaufer: Most people recognize that we can’t rely on just one source of energy. That’s why we need to make sure renewable energy sources, especially solar, are part of our “all of the above” energy mix. When I bought my home, I was interested in installing solar panels, but my property has too many trees and shade to make it feasible. That’s the kind of obstacle that can prevent people from installing solar panels on their own homes, but those who are unable to do so still want the benefits of renewable energy. Community solar is the next step we can take to expand our renewable energy footprint in Pennsylvania for homeowners and renters alike.
Sen. Scavello: I began to focus my attention on Community Solar shortly after the passage of Act 40 of 2017 which “closed the borders” of the commonwealth on SREC purchases. Passage of Act 40 resulted in a positive economic impact and growth of the solar industry in Pennsylvania and also led to a significant amount of job creation. When I started looking at community solar, the benefits were undeniable to me. Community solar opens up the market to new people who want the option to utilize clean energy while providing farmers with additional revenue that can help stabilize their income and weather the tough commodity markets.
How have Pennsylvanians responded?
Rep. Kaufer: Pennsylvanians from all walks of life have reached out to me about this legislation. Farmers, renters, and homeowners from both urban and rural areas of the commonwealth have had positive feedback. Some people are interested in installing community solar panels on their own land; others are looking to subscribe as consumers. The opportunities are immense, and the consumer benefits are clear. Opening up this market will provide new options for many Pennsylvanians who really want them. I’ve seen polling that shows nearly 80% of Pennsylvania voters want us to give them the option of community solar.
Sen. Scavello: We get many calls in my office on a daily basis from people who see the benefit and want community solar in Pennsylvania. Farmers, renters, homeowners, business owners from all corners of Pennsylvania have reached out to my office. Community solar is another option for consumers and will also provide a positive economic impact statewide. Since the introduction of this legislation, I have received an immeasurable amount of support and positive feedback. Whether you are a business owner, a landowner looking to install panels on your own land, or a consumer, there is a benefit for all.
What has the support been like from your colleagues? There are many cosponsors in both the House and Senate.
Sen. Scavello: My colleagues in the Senate have been tremendously supportive, from rural to suburban and urban regions alike. This legislation will give renters and people whose homes cannot accommodate solar panels a new opportunity. When you consider all of the Pennsylvanians who can benefit from this bill, it’s clear why SB 705 has such strong support from the legislators who represent them.
Rep. Kaufer: Cosponsors of this legislation are coming from every corner of Pennsylvania. It’s clear to them that this comes down to consumer choice. In many situations, consumer choice is limited. As this market opens up, people will be able to look at the facts and make the decision about their energy options on their own. Pennsylvanians want the option of community solar, regardless of their political party or what part of the state they live in. My colleagues should join me in working to get this legislation signed into law because it’s a wholly popular issue.
Sen. Scavello: This bill speaks for itself. We gained cosponsors without ever picking up the phone and asking for support. After reading the bill and the co-sponsorship memo, many senators were immediately supportive, which is unusual. Usually, senators are more cautious and wait to attach their names to a piece of legislation. But this bill has gained support across the commonwealth from senators in Philadelphia, Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, Easton, Allentown, and Scranton, just to name a few areas.
Pennsylvania has a diverse energy mix. How do you think community solar fits in as another new energy choice?
Sen. Scavello: Community solar will benefit both the state and the nation. Our situation in Pennsylvania is no different than any other state: We cannot put all of our eggs in one basket. We have to consider every option to provide consumers with the choices they need. If you consider the benefits of community solar with an open mind, the benefits for farmers, job seekers, and for our economy as a whole are clear.
I would encourage anyone who is skeptical of solar energy to consider the impact community solar would have for farmers, many of whom are struggling financially while providing us with the food we need. It really is a win/win for us all, providing opportunities and new choices for Pennsylvanians. Many farmers have areas of their land that are not easily farmed. Farming can be demanding and often comes without great financial returns, and for many family farmers, the money earned from community solar programs means the difference between keeping the farm in the family and letting it go.
How does Penn State’s new economic impact study help make the case for community solar?
Rep. Kaufer: It shows this legislation is needed now more than ever, as it would provide over $2 billion in private investment to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, without raising taxes. We are grappling with a major economic downturn, meaning less revenue to the state, and fewer people working. Community solar will have a stimulus-like effect on the commonwealth, providing an opportunity to generate new tax revenue, create jobs, and give farmers a lifeline. I am a strong believer in this legislation because it provides a rare opportunity for growth in Pennsylvania.
Sen. Scavello: The numbers speak for themselves. Community solar will provide $2 billion in economic benefits that we cannot ignore. The construction of new community solar projects would create jobs for families who are in need, especially in rural Pennsylvania, where so many people are grappling with unemployment in the wake of COVID-19. And farmers could generate thousands of dollars in income by leasing small portions of their land to these projects.
In Monroe County, the loss of tourism has impacted local restaurants, malls, and gas stations. We’re not asking for any incentives from the state, but community solar can provide the boost we need to get our neighbors back to work.
Why is community solar so important to you?
Rep. Kaufer: This is a labor of love for me, and we have been working on passing this legislation for years. In my area of suburban Pennsylvania, there have not always been options for rooftop solar, so I really do believe people will take advantage of this opportunity. Community solar would create access to renewable energy for so many.
Sen. Scavello: I want to emphasize how community solar helps to keep farmers’ land in production. Many farmers struggle because they cannot predict when a poor crop year will come. This program will help them preserve land on family farms for the future, while still allowing them to plant crops on other areas of their property.
This is a chance for us to use clean energy sources to help the commonwealth. Community solar will create new opportunities without government dollars, eliminating red tape, and opening up a new market for investment. New community solar projects mean new opportunities for all of us.
With everything going on in the state capitol right now, what is the urgency to pass this legislation now?
Rep. Kaufer: The most important thing we need to focus on as legislators is getting our economy back on track. Community solar will provide thousands of family-sustaining jobs and inject investment in communities across the commonwealth, and that needs to be our priority right now.
Sen. Scavello: Community solar will provide an economic lifeline to farmers and other family businesses, as well as save families money. It’s a no-brainer, particularly as we look to provide an immediate economic boost in Pennsylvania – and we need to get it done this year.
To express your support for community solar in Pennsylvania, please call or email your legislators! Details at www.pa4communitysolar.com