Keeping Pennsylvania’s Solar Growth on Track

With all kinds of new data out there demonstrating U.S. solar growth (here, here and here), we wanted to offer our insights into how these successes are playing out in one of our key campaign states: Pennsylvania.

Over the past couple years, Pennsylvania has become a real solar powerplayer. Having developed over 100 MW of solar PV, PA is a leader in terms of installed solar and the jobs it creates. In fact, last year’s Solar Jobs Census ranked the state second in the nation behind California for number of solar jobs. We eagerly await the 2011 results.

Pennsylvania’s remarkable solar growth can be attributed to the widely successful rebate and grant programs enabled under the Governor Rendell administration. These programs gave the state the jumpstart needed to successfully establish a nascent energy industry by attracting project development and investment. However, these programs were designed to be short term and are quickly coming to an end.

Going forward, Pennsylvania will transition its solar support to a longer-term mechanism: the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS). Requiring utilities and electric suppliers to procure at least 0.5% of their electricity generation from solar resources by 2021, the AEPS will result in nearly 800 MW of solar.

And here’s where Pennsylvania has a problem. The AEPS is a strong policy tool; however, existing solar installations—those that are grant funded—have already met the near term AEPS requirements. That means there is no remaining appetite for new solar projects. Without a sustained market driver, the once-thriving PA solar industry will wither, and the state’s momentum in building economies of scale, expanding its solar workforce and lowering prices will be lost.

Pennsylvania needs a strategy to ensure that its solar market can smoothly transition from the successful programs of the past to the long-term, sustainable opportunities of the future.

House Bill 1580 offers that transition. Announced this past spring by Representative Chris Ross (R-Chester), HB 1580 would support this transition by increasing the near-term solar goals under the AEPS. In addition to stimulating continued solar development, HB 1580 makes use of an industry ready to build more solar power today making the aggressive AEPS requirements of tomorrow more achievable. Its passage would drive Pennsylvania solar development at a time when global costs are dramatically declining, the U.S. industry is surging, and Pennsylvania desperately needs new economic opportunities.

Specifically, HB 1580 would:

1. Increase the solar requirements beneath the AEPS for the next three years. This will keep the market robust as Pennsylvania transitions to a market-based solar program.

2. Require that systems must be connected to the distribution grid serving PA to be eligible for AEPS incentives. This will ensure that solar projects maximize value and benefits to the local grid and the local economy.

With the legislature in session through mid-December, we have a limited window of opportunity to advance HB 1580. With over 90 co-sponsors already signed on, the bill is well-positioned for success. Nonetheless, Harrisburg politics being what they are, the path to HB 1580’s passage is hardly a clear shot. In the coming weeks, we hope you’ll join us in supporting this crucial piece of legislation and keeping PA’s solar growth on track.

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

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