Solar indulgences for fossil sins in Pennsylvania


A bill has been submitted to the State of Pennsylvania legislature that would sell the renewable energy certificates (RECs) the state recently purchased as part of a solar power purchase agreement to third parties, and would use the proceeds to pay for capping abandoned oil and gas wells within the state.

The document, Senate Bill 945, states:

“…all proceeds from the sale, auction, transfer or other disposition of an alternative energy credit in section 3 shall be deposited into the Marcellus Legacy Fund (and) shall be used by the Commonwealth Financing Authority for orphan or abandoned oil and gas well plugging.”

The senator estimates that $11 million a year could be raised from selling the credits.

In an interview with NPR, Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) expressed worries that it could prevent the state from meeting its own clean energy goals. PennFuture suggested that this bill, signed on its own, might dampen the market price for these credits within the state because current clean energy goals have been met.

An Opinion from the Author

Do it! Who cares? But let’s make sure it only gets signed if the community solar legislation, also currently being considered, gets signed. This way, we support our environment from both ends of the candle — by deploying new emission free generating capacity and by cleaning up old fossil facilities.

The goal of renewable energy certificates is to get more solar power built. The tool was designed to allow for a clear demarcation between the electricity generated by solar panels and the more ephemeral “environmental attributes” of emission free electricity.

According to SRECTrade, the value of the attributes in Pennsylvania is just under 3.9 cents per kilowatt hour. That value is a market price that varies based upon meeting clean state legislated energy goals.


The way it works is simple. First, the solar power facility sells its electricity into the marketplace. In the case of this legislation, one of the deals is a seven project, 191 MW power purchase agreement signed to offset 50% of the state’s electricity usage.

For each 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity generated by solar hardware, a single solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) is minted. It’s really just a digital notation somewhere in the cloud on some computer. It is not a tangible item (unless you print out a hardcopy of the record, like a luddite).

The power companies that are generating electricity are forced to buy these credits to meet clean energy legal requirements set by the state. This way, instead of tax payers paying solar incentives through the government – the power company pays for it directly, via a market technique, in order to balance out its polluting ways.

Yes, private electricity buyers are going to pay for it, one way or another. But in reality we will all pay for climate change, one way or another.


For those of us who are highly motivated to sell solar power to the world, we must do whatever it takes to get volume deployed! Yes, technically, the state will no longer be able to say that it is “solar powered”. But technically, our goal here is to clean the grid, not mint SRECs.

According to the Solar Energy Industries of America, Pennsylvania gets 0.39% of its electricity from solar power, and is fighting for a community solar program. It needs all the push it can get. Giving this bill to the general public, while trying to pass the aforementioned community solar bill, could be just what the democracy ordered.

And if we get a double benefit in that we close a few abandoned wells, then let’s get it done! Yes, the few hundred wells per year that this fund would close is a drop in the bucket compared to the 200,000 abandoned wells in the state. But we’ve got a long road ahead, and there’s still a lot of grease to clean off our politician’s hands – with some clean, fresh, home grown solar electricity!

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