Pennsylvania could lower its greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and improve public health if it got more power from the sun. That’s according to a new report from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Under the state’s current Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) Pennsylvania is on track to produce half-a-percent of its electricity from solar sources by 2021.
The new plan, called Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future, sets a much more ambitious goal — 10 percent by 2030. It was developed through a two-year, $550,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Program.
Electricity generation accounts for about a third of Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions. The state is the third-biggest carbon emitter in the U.S., after Texas and California.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell says Pennsylvania’s AEPS law was nation-leading back when it passed in 2004, but since then, many other states have set higher targets.
“We’ve seen a lot of states leapfrog past us, so we want to make sure we’re taking advantage of the environmental and economic benefits of the resource,” McDonnell said. “In addition to the environmental benefits, one of the things this [report] identifies is 60,000 to 100,000 additional jobs. So this is really a win-win for the Commonwealth.”
If the 10 percent goal were met, the report says the combination of fuel savings — taking advantage of free sunlight– and avoiding public health and environmental damages could result in a net economic benefit of $1.6 billion annually from 2018 through 2030.
The report’s 15 recommendations include expanding the renewable targets in the AEPS, implementing a carbon pricing program, financing local clean energy projects, and promoting alternative ratemaking mechanisms so as not to disincentive solar projects.
Some strategies are already in the works, while others would require legislative action. For example, earlier this year lawmakers approved an alternative ratemaking law — which will help create more revenue options for utilities.
Gov. Tom Wolf also recently signed a law to enable a Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program, which is among the recommendations in the new solar report. It’s aimed at helping commercial property owners finance the costs of clean energy upgrades, like adding rooftop solar. Other states have residential PACE programs, which McDonnell said may also be an option for Pennsylvania.