By David Scholnick

Times Guest Columnist 

From the Delco Daily Times

As Pennsylvania’s economy comes roaring back from the pandemic gloom, farmers and homeowners have noticed the accelerating contribution of one industry that actually kept growing in 2020: solar energy.

Pennsylvania has been an energy leader for decades. In Harrisburg, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are advocating for a simple policy update that will keep solar energy growing, leverage billions in private investment, and create thousands of new jobs.

Back in 2004, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a modest, but forward-looking goal of generating one-half percent of our electricity from solar by 2021. If power companies didn’t hit the benchmarks, they had to buy credits from solar array owners. When combined with electric bill savings, these credits have helped thousands of families, companies, and farms go solar by ensuring that it pays for itself. Today, the Keystone State generates 0.5 percent of its electricity from solar. The policy worked.

Now it’s time to renew and strengthen Pennsylvania’s solar goal. If we don’t, we risk losing the momentum we’ve built and stalling the growth of a vital industry.

Vital to Pa.’s Economy

 The solar industry employs more than 4,300 people in Pennsylvania, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Despite the pandemic, solar attracted $369 million of investment to the state, last year alone.

In 2017, my wife and I decided to have solar installed on our roof, a decision that has saved us thousands in energy costs. Now we have more money around for things like camp for our six-year-old, or to put into his college fund. Our July electric bill was ten dollars.

A More Resilient Electric Grid

Solar also helps protect communities from disasters like the blackout that hit Texas this year.

 Solar is a form of distributed energy, which makes the electric grid more efficient and resilient. In Pennsylvania, we use the most energy in the summer when air conditioners are cranked to the max. Those months also happen to be the most productive for solar. With more solar installed, that peak demand for energy smooths out, reducing strain on the grid and allowing it to run more efficiently with less volatility.

When homeowners and farmers generate their own electricity, it doesn’t have to travel miles from power plants to homes and farms. This reduces the need for utilities to build out transmission lines and increase capacity. It’s also more efficient because when electricity has to travel long distances, some of it is lost. Utilities have to factor for this loss, and we the ratepayers have to pay for it.

Empowering Everyday Pennsylvanians

 In America, we’ve been getting our electricity from massive power plants tied to vast power grids for many years, but our needs are changing. We’re using more electricity to heat and cool buildings; we’re even using electricity to power our vehicles. Technology and new usage patterns are gradually rendering the old system obsolete. We feel this change when we open our jaw-dropping summertime electric bills.

Consumers are looking for ways to take control, not just of their electricity use, but where their electricity comes from and how it’s generated. When lawmakers support the solar industry, they’re unlocking Pennsylvanians’ freedom to own our own power – to generate it ourselves, and to reap the profits.

 There are multiple bills circulating in Harrisburg that would increase the amount of solar energy we produce, thereby creating jobs, bringing in investment, and empowering everyday Pennsylvanians.

 Our solar goal stands at 0.5 percent where it was set in 2004. These proposals would bring our goal closer to those in surrounding states. New Jersey wants to facilitate another 3,750 megawatts of new solar power generation by 2026, Delaware just tripled their solar goal from 3.5 percent by 2025 to 10 percent by 2035, and Maryland’s goal is 14.5 percent by 2030.

 Pennsylvania has always been an energy leader. Our economy benefited greatly from the coal we took from the ground. It continues to benefit from all the nuclear facilities and natural gas across the state. Raising Pennsylvania’s solar goal will keep Pennsylvania an energy leader.

We have to keep moving our energy economy forward, strengthen our electric grid, and empower our citizens with the freedom to generate our own clean, local energy. We met our 2004 goal for solar. It’s time for Pennsylvania to set a new goal and live up to our history of energy leadership.

David Scholnick, a native Pennsylvanian, is a solar specialist at Orbit Energy & Power, which installs solar in PA, MD, NJ, and DE. Reach out to David at [email protected].

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