Solar industry gets boost from PECO donation, proposed legislation

In this undated photo provided by SolarCity, workers install solar panels on the roof of a home. (SolarCity/AP Photo)

In this undated photo provided by SolarCity, workers install solar panels on the roof of a home. (SolarCity/AP Photo)

Renewable energy got a boost on Thursday when PECO donated $100,000 for a solar-job training program in Philadelphia, and a state lawmaker introduced a bill that would allow utility companies across the state to build their own solar farms.

The PECO grant was presented to the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), a nonprofit that helps low-income people develop job skills.

The group plans to use the money to train up to 100 people to become solar installers and energy auditors over two years beginning in January 2018.

Environmentalists have accused PECO of not doing enough to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels at a time when successive hurricanes have boosted public concern about climate change.

The group Earth Quaker Action Team welcomed the donation, but said PECO needs to do a lot more to boost its use of renewable fuels.

“PECO must take this opportunity to announce how the company will rapidly get out of the business of climate change by adopting 20 percent solar energy by 2025 while creating local jobs,” said Eileen Flanagan, who leads the Earth Quaker Action Team, in a statement.

But PECO CEO Craig Adams said the company is likely to do more to support renewables in future.

“Our grant today to OIC is intended to be the beginning of what could be an even larger program in time,” Adams said. “In many of these kind of programs, you have to walk before you run.”

He said the company is also supporting legislation intended to grow solar in the region and provide job opportunities.

“There are others who say it’s not enough,” Adams said. “We believe there are constituents who have to deal with the cost of how fast you do it, and we need to make sure we are protecting all the different constituents, not just one group.”

In the legislature, the PA Solar for All bill would permit power-distribution companies like PECO to generate their own solar electricity. The bill would also make it easier for people who already have solar panels on their houses to connect to the grid. And it would provide solar-power discounts for low-income residents who live near new solar installations.

State Rep. Donna Bullock, a Philadelphia Democrat who introduced the bill, said she expects opposition from the majority Republicans in the legislature, but is hoping for bipartisan support.

“It will be a challenge, just because of ideologies in the House, but I hope that we can get across the aisle and that this would be a bill that folks will see as helpful to all Pennsylvanians, regardless of party, regardless of what part of the state you’re from,” Bullock said.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of OIC, said the PECO money will help clients get trained in solar energy jobs and make a liveable wage.

He acknowledged critics who say that PECO’s donation isn’t big enough, but said it is an important step in the right direction.

“It’s a good drop in the bucket,” he said. “When you think about filling up a pail, you have to start with one drop. We are starting with one drop with PECO, and we know that they are going to be committed over these next years, as we can demonstrate impact.”

The increasing adoption of solar will help Pennsylvania meet its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard which requires that 18 percent of electricity comes from renewable sources by 2021. Ten percentage points of the target — or a little more than half — must come from sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy.

This disclosure: Craig Adams sits on the board of WHYY. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.