Pa. Democrats again debating fix for solar industry

    Pennsylvania State Rep. Mike Sturla lampooned a utility industry representative Tuesday for arguing that increasing renewable energy quotas would be too expensive.

    He likened non-renewable energy sources to Twinkies: cheap, but bad for you.


    “When somebody’s in the grocery store buying Twinkies with their Access card,” Sturla said, referencing Pennsylvania’s modern equivalent of food stamps, “we get really upset, because we say that’s not good for them or us.

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    ‘But when we come to energy we say, ‘You know what’s best? What’s best is cheapest.'”

    Sturla was addressing Energy Association of Pennsylvania head Terry Fitzpatrick at a House Democratic policy committee meeting on renewable energy in Bryn Mawr.

    Fitzpatrick had argued increasing solar and wind requirements from 8 percent of total utility purchases to 15 percent by 2023 would increase costs for ratepayers by $2 billion over 12 years.

    State Rep. Greg Vitali hopes to introduce a bill calling for that change in the Legislature soon.

    Representatives of utility companies staunchly opposed similar legislation two sessions ago, and early indications show nothing has changed.  At this early hearing, Fitzpatrick said that Pennsylvania’s 2004 alternative energy legislation should be seen as a one-time deal.

    “I think it was designed to give these technologies a foothold, to get them started, and that was it,” Fitzpatrick said.

    Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Jim Cawley went on record Tuesday in support of Vitali’s proposal.

    “The Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act was enacted in Pennsylvania in 2004,” Cawley said. “We were in the forefront of this effort in the nation … Pennsylvania has now fallen behind. All of our sister states have higher requirements than we do.”

    In 2011, at the height of growth in Pennsylvania’s solar sector, 83 megawatts of power were installed in the state and connected to the grid. In 2012, when an oversupply caused prices for solar energy credits to crash, that dwindled to 20 megawatts.

    Solar boosters say regulations need to go further, while those against a mandated expansion, including Fitzpatrick, said that means the regulations have already done their job.

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