It’s been two years since the Pennsylvania General Assembly has taken definitive steps to strengthen its solar energy economy, closing the solar renewable energy credits (SREC) market to keep jobs and investment inside the commonwealth. But new legislation to enable community solar programs in Pennsylvania is an opportunity that will create thousands of jobs and billions in economic development dollars to come to the state. Legislators would be wise to pass the bills in the coming weeks as a way to jumpstart the commonwealth’s economy.
House Bill (HB) 531 and Senate Bill (SB) 705 are designed to make community solar accessible to more Pennsylvanians by removing the red tape preventing such projects. Representative Aaron Kaufer of Luzerne County is the prime sponsor of HB 531 and has been working diligently to ensure the bill delivers the most good to the widest cross-section of Pennsylvanians, from consumers, to farmers and small businesses. Introduced even before COVID-19 wrought its devastating economic impacts, the legislation is more important than ever.
A recent poll conducted on behalf of the PA Community Solar Economic Alliance shows that nearly 80% of Pennsylvanians, regardless of political party, support passing these bills. The support for enabling community solar programs and giving Pennsylvanians the choice to enroll is also bipartisan, with strong support from Republicans (68%), Independents (80%) and Democrats (85%), across urban and rural regions alike.
Right now, it’s close to impossible to bring community solar plans to fruition in Pennsylvania because of utility law restrictions. The bills currently before the legislature would take the shackles off community solar development that is poised for major growth.
As a native Pennsylvanian (from just outside West Pittston in Luzerne County), I’m fully committed to making sure community solar is viable in the state. Some estimates project the overall impact of these bills on the state’s economy to be over $2 billion. After all, my company alone currently has approximately $500 million in projects waiting to save everyday Pennsylvanians significant energy costs if these bills pass. The Coalition for Community Solar Access estimates that over 200 projects in 41 counties await action based on the passage of HB 531 and SB 705.
In addition, community solar has the potential to bring well-paying jobs to the commonwealth. Studies have indicated that the passage of HB 531 and SB 705 will increase the number of solar jobs in Pennsylvania substantially. For an economy rocked in recent years by the diminution of other core industries and COVID-19-related disruptions, an increase in solar jobs would be a significant boost to the commonwealth’s employment landscape.
Blue-collar solar installation jobs from community solar projects pay well and don’t require a college education. They could fuel middle-class economic resurgence in Pennsylvania. In addition, the solar industry offers a variety of other well-paying opportunities, from management to marketing to engineering and finance that can appeal to different potential employees. We offer careers that can open new worlds and keep Pennsylvanians in Pennsylvania, rather than having to leave the state to find the energy jobs of the future.
And that doesn’t even take into account the other economic benefits community solar produces, such as generating tax revenues from otherwise unused or damaged land, lowering electricity prices for anyone who pays an electric bill, and providing energy choice for all Pennsylvanians.
The best argument for the bills, however, is that they provide an opportunity for bipartisan action on legislation that can provide economic relief to the commonwealth in so many ways, without raising taxes. The legislation has earned support from groups including the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
But time is of the essence. The legislation needs to move before the 2020 elections. Otherwise, all the economic potential community solar can bring to Pennsylvania is on hold until the legislature reconvenes in 2021-or longer. Pennsylvanians cannot afford to wait.
It’s time to get HB 531 and SB 705 passed and on their way to the governor for his signature. Call your Pennsylvania Representatives and Senators today to make sure they support this important legislation. It’s time to Let Pennsylvania Shine.
Tony Clifford is the chief strategy officer for Rockville, Md.-based solar company Standard Solar.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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