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New Report: Solar Capacity in Pennsylvania Grew by 16% in 2013

By: Adam Garber |

Today, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center released Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Boom in 2013, highlighting strong solar growth across the nation including an 16%increase in Pennsylvania in 2013.   The report clearly shows that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy to help capture the virtually unlimited and pollution-free energy from the sun.

Pennsylvania’s progress on solar has helped fuel a tripling of solar energy nationwide between 2011 and 2013. In 2013, solar capacity in Pennsylvania grew from 196 MW to 235 MW.

“Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option here in Pennsylvania and across the country,” said Sophie Grueterich, Field Organizer with PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center. “Thanks to the commitment of Pennsylvania’s leaders, this pollution-free energy option is poised to play a major role in helping us meet the goal of 20,000 solar roofs that the city of Philadelphia resolved to reach by 2025.”

Still, Pennsylvania did not rank in the top 10 states for growth in solar for 2013. Our solar growth has retarded significantly due to the end of the state’s Sunshine rebate program and a smaller carve out for solar in Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard. Moreover, Pennsylvania is now the only state with an open state border policy—allowing any solar PV system to sell their Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) into PA from the other state’s in PJM Interconnection. But, cities like Philadelphia hope to pick up the slack in 2014 and 2015 by developing local policies to drive solar growth.  Philadelphia recently set a goal of 20,000 solar roofs by 2025.

“Philadelphia can lead by example,” said Councilman Bobby Henon (6th District). “Going solar can build a new economy – a new economy that includes numerous family-sustaining scientific, R&D, manufacturing and construction jobs, in a way that is much safer for our environment.”

Solar in the United States increased more than 120-fold in the last 10 years.  In the first quarter of 2014, solar energy accounted for 74 percent of all the new electric generation capacity installed in the United States.  Ten states with the most solar installed per capita are driving 89% of the solar installed in the U.S, while, representing only 26 percent of the population and 20 percent of the electricity consumption.

“Photovoltaic, along with other renewable-energy technologies are reliable and pollution-free and a rapidly growing sector of the energy market. At IBEW Local Union #98, we combine a mix of experienced students, top-notch instructor and the latest and greatest equipment to train our members. The goal of our program is to create a fundamental understanding of the core concepts necessary to work with all PV systems, including: system components, site analysis, PV module criteria, mounting solutions and most important, safety. For over 12 years, the IBEW has been dedicated to hands-on labs, online solar photovoltaic training, and renewable energy education. Currently all five of our buildings are equipped with PV systems that generated 100 KW.” Stated Ignatious Fletcher, of the IBEW, “I believe that Solar PV Systems can have a strong and vibrant future in Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania.  As an industry leader, the IBEW is dedicated to staying within budget, and deliver good value for our customers.”

And as the solar industry grows, the cost for installed solar decreases; making it more accessible. The price of installed solar systems fell 60 percent between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2013.  Jobs in the solar industry are also growing rapidly. In 2013, there were more than 140,000 solar jobs in the U.S., including 2,900 in Pennsylvania alone.

“We’re looking forward to solar getting back on track in PA, as installations have increased in recent months”, says Ron Celentano, President of the Pennsylvania Solar Energy Industry Association (PASEIA). “And we’re particularly excited to educate our state officials and the utility companies of this new PennEnvironment report, as well as “The Value of Distributed Solar Electric Generation to New Jersey and Pennsylvania” study, commissioned by PASEIA/MSEIA, which found that solar power delivers a premium value in the range of $150 to $200 per MWh (15 cents to 20 cents per kWh), above the value of the solar electricity generated.” He continues to say, “However, its important to defend what we’ve accomplished in Pennsylvania. Recently the PA Public Utility Commission has proposed watering down our existing net metering rules; the public has until September 3, 2014, to submit comments to this, and preserve the strong net metering rules we already have in place.”

Another major driver for solar energy is that it produces no pollution, including climate-altering carbon emissions.  According the report, solar power produces 96 percent less global warming pollution than coal-fired power plants over its entire life cycle and 91 percent less global warming pollution than natural gas-fired power plants.

Several strong policies adopted by the top 10 solar states helped encourage homeowners and businesses to “go solar:”

  • 9 states have strong net metering policies. In nearly all of the leading states, consumers are compensated at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid.
  • 9 states have strong statewide interconnection policies. Good interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.
  • All 10 states have renewable electricity standards that set minimum requirements for the share of a utility’s electricity that must come from renewable sources, and 8 of them have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.
  • 9 states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements, and 8 allow property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

“Pennsylvania officials deserve tremendous credit for recognizing the environmental and economic benefits of solar and taking action to make it a reality,” concluded Grueterich. “As more people see the benefits of solar energy, we’re confident clean, limitless energy from the sun will be a growing part of Pennsylvania’s plan to reduce pollution from power plants.”