Interfaith group uses moral suasion to advance solar power for Philadelphia

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The group Power Interfaith has called on southeastern Pennsylvania utility PECO to enter long-term contracts for solar and wind power, challenging the utility’s “insistence” on short-term contracts that “artificially favor fossil fuels.”

With long-term contracts, solar and wind power “are cheaper than burning fossil fuels,” the group says in its People’s Energy Plan for PECO.

PECO should include “the maximum amount of affordable, renewable energy” in its four-year energy procurement plan due to state regulators next year, said Julie Greenberg, who serves as director of Power’s climate justice and jobs initiative and as rabbi for a Philadelphia congregation. PECO should not propose “the absolute minimum that is required” under Pennsylvania law, “which is what PECO served us in its last plan” four years ago, she said.

At a rally in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall last month to launch the PECO initiative, Power Interfaith Executive Director Dwayne Royster said that Pennsylvania law “only requires PECO to obtain one-half of 1% of our electricity from solar,” and that the state ranks 45th out of 50 states for the amount of electricity produced from wind, solar and hydro. Royster, who also serves as senior pastor for Faith United Church of Christ in Washington, DC, said that other utilities in Pennsylvania have begun using 25-year power purchasing contracts “to support the construction of new solar energy.”

The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved in 2020 a PECO proposal to solicit new ten-year contracts for Solar Alternative Energy Credits.

“PECO nearly has all of our eggs in one fossil fuel basket,” Royster said, adding that natural gas price volatility “puts people at risk” because “so many households in our region are already struggling to afford energy bills.”

“All of humanity is facing the huge challenge of climate change,” Royster added, saying that Philadelphia is already “seeing and feeling climate change,” as “summers are getting hotter earlier,” and recent hurricanes flooded large areas in southwest Philadelphia and caused the Schuylkill River to overflow, flooding the I-676 highway.

Philadelphia City Council member Kendall Brooks said that the People’s Energy Plan “is about using people power to ensure clean energy and clean water for our children. We want PECO to be proactive and shift our energy away from fossil fuels toward wind and solar.”

Anthony Ross, a solar installer with Solar States, said that clean renewable energy “gives opportunities.” He said that in the past, he was a “troubled person” dealing with homelessness and incarceration. “But I was introduced to the solar industry, and it allowed me to be financially stable.”

Ross added that fracking in Pennsylvania, “mostly in low-income rural areas,” has “caused many peoples’ health to deteriorate, due to toxic chemicals in the water.” He said he empathized with those who have been “affected by this environmental crisis.”

The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission in its 2020 proceeding on PECO’s last procurement plan approved a partial settlement to which all intervening parties except a group of environmental stakeholders had agreed, and denied the environmental stakeholders’ objections to that partial settlement. Power Interfaith did not intervene in that proceeding.

Power Interfaith is a multi-issue community organizing group operating in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

Greenberg credited the Earth Quaker Action Team for its work for six years leading a campaign to pressure PECO to “power local green jobs” through solar expansion—a campaign that “Power enthusiastically joined,” she said.

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