Bipartisan Pa. bill would authorize community solar projects | Monday Morning Coffee

The measure would green light more than 230 projects in 48 counties, backers said

By: - April 3, 2023 7:15 am

(Getty Images)

bipartisan proposal now making the rounds of the General Assembly would allow Pennsylvania to join the company of 22 other states that allow “community solar” projects that backers say “would enable access to solar energy for all Pennsylvanians,” regardless of whether they can install solar panel on their roofs or not.

“Rising costs and energy bills are very real here in Pennsylvania, and we must help find creative solutions to maintain reasonable utility costs,” Sen. Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe, the prime sponsor of the Senate version of the proposal, said in a statement.

“Community solar will include another option to further develop a diverse energy portfolio in Pennsylvania, leading us to a brighter and cost-efficient energy future,” Brown continued, adding that “creating a market for additional electricity options is a way to keep consumer costs down.”

People who participate in community solar projects can buy or lease portions of solar panels in a panel array, according to the U.S. Energy Department. In turn, they “typically receive an electric bill credit for electricity generated by their share of the community solar system—similar to someone who has rooftop panels installed on their home,” according to a summary on the agency’s website.

“My district has a lot of apartment buildings and multi-tenant homes, and right now they’re being excluded from a renewable, affordable energy source just because they don’t have a single family home in the suburbs,” Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, who’s backing a companion House bill, said in the joint statement. “Clean energy shouldn’t be exclusive or inaccessible; my constituents deserve options to lower their energy bills, especially as traditional rates continue to rise.”

If the proposal is eventually signed into law, it would green light some 230 community solar projects in 48 Pennsylvania counties, saving participating subscribers more than $30 million a year, backers said.

(Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

“Community solar is a critical part of a comprehensive energy portfolio, but current law and red tape prevents the state from taking advantage of the many benefits this form of energy can bring,” Matthew Hargarten, of the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a national trade group, said in a statement.

The legislation is “good for consumers and small businesses who will see savings on their electric bills; farmers and communities who will see new financial opportunities and tax revenue; and workers who will see thousands of family sustaining jobs come online,” Hargarten said.

According to an independent analysis by the consumer-facing website EnergySage, community solar participants save between 5% to 15% off their typical electricity bills.

But “some community solar programs may be more expensive than your current electricity bill, so it’s important to evaluate both expected monthly bills and long-term savings as you’re deciding whether or not to join a community solar program in order to save on energy costs,” the analysis concluded.

Solar power panels in field on a sunny autumn day (Getty Images).
Solar power panels in field on a sunny autumn day (Getty Images).

In Pennsylvania, the community solar projects will be funded through private investment, creating jobs for electricians, installers and other professionals.

Backers pointed to a September 2020 Penn State University study concluding that community solar projects could create more than 12,000 jobs statewide, and generate $1.8 billion in economic activity.

“There’s simply no reason that skilled and able workers are being kept on the sidelines for projects like this,” Robert Bair, the president of the Pennsylvania Building Trades, said. “The design, construction, and operation of these solar projects will keep thousands of folks in family sustaining jobs for years to come. We’re ready to get to work and look forward to seeing a responsible community solar marketplace in Pennsylvania.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.