‘Fix the mix’: Climate activists want PECO to buy more renewable energy

Climate activists want PECO to add more renewables to its energy sources and say solar and wind energy are cheap enough to make them viable for ratepayers and the environment.

A building with a sign that reads PECO

PECO headquarters in Center City Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Climate activists say it’s time for PECO to add more renewables to its mix of sources that generate electricity for customers in southeast Pennsylvania, arguing that the price of solar and wind has come down far enough to make it a win-win for ratepayers and the environment.

“We want PECO to step up to the plate and do the right thing and get more of these long-term contracts that will bring in more renewable energy,” said Wendy Greenspan, with the activist group POWER Interfaith.

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PECO is required every four years to submit its power purchasing plan to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Known as the default service program, it details the utility’s procurement, implementation and contingency plans for generating electricity. About 77% of ratepayers in PECO’s service area opt for “default” service as opposed to signing up with an alternative provider.

PECO’s petition for approval of its default service program before the PUC is essentially the only opportunity for the public to weigh in on the amount of renewables the utility uses as part of its mix. The current default service program expires at the end of May 2025.

PECO spokesman Brian Ahrens said the mix of fossil fuel and renewables proposed are governed by regulations that require a “prudent mix” of energy sources that will insure the least cost to ratepayers.

“It all falls back to our regulatory obligations,” said Ahrens. “We have an obligation to get energy at the least cost over time. We designed this filing to comply with those regulations.”

POWER Interfaith is one of several groups that has intervened in the case before the Public Utility Commission, along with the Clean Air Council, PennEnvironment, the Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania and Vote Solar. While the groups have not yet submitted detailed testimony, Greenspan said it will include data that long-term contracts with solar energy providers will prove to be cheaper than fossil fuel sources like natural gas, oil and coal.

The groups point to a report issued last year by the think tank RMI that shows improvements to wind and solar technologies will continue to drive down costs, making them increasingly competitive with fossil fuels.

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PECO’s Ahrens said the utility has “common ground” with POWER Interfaith, and that the company has set its own climate goals of reducing its carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.

Within the current proposal, Ahrens said it plans to double the amount of solar energy credits bought through long-term contracts. But that doesn’t change the percentage of solar energy within its mix which, according to its proposal, remains at .5%, the minimum required by the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards.

POWER Interfaith’s Greenspan said the groups want PECO to “lead not follow” and “democratize energy” by engaging more deeply with its customers who want to see more renewable energy used to generate electricity.

“It’s good for the health of the planet and it’s good for our pocketbooks,” Greenspan said.

The Public Utility Commission will hear evidence from both sides and make a decision on PECO’s plan by October.

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