With Philly’s solar development dimming, groups push for more state funding

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     David Masur, center, executive director of PennEnvironment, speaks at a news conference in Philadelphia calling on state lawmakers to boost funding for solar energy. He is flanked by Pennsylvania Secretary of Policy and Planning John Hanger, left, and electricians union leader John Dougherty. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY)

    David Masur, center, executive director of PennEnvironment, speaks at a news conference in Philadelphia calling on state lawmakers to boost funding for solar energy. He is flanked by Pennsylvania Secretary of Policy and Planning John Hanger, left, and electricians union leader John Dougherty. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY)

    In the last year, city officials doubled-down on bringing more solar power to Philadelphia, pledging 20,000 rooftop panels by 2025. But there’s still a long way to go.

    According to a new report by the advocacy group PennEnvironment, Philadelphia ranks 26th in total solar capacity and 41st in per capita solar generation out of 65 analyzed cities.

    The middling performance is in contrast to area solar stars such as Wilmington, Delaware, and Newark, New Jersey. Both took leading positions in each of their geographical regions, and produce 13 to 17 times as much solar power per person as Philadelphia.

    New York, which lags slightly behind Philadelphia in solar power available per resident, nevertheless has the ability to generate nearly five times the wattage.

    “If we create the policies and bolster up this job-creating opportunity that’s good for the environment, we can really reap the benefit,” said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment. “And if you don’t, you’ll miss out.”

    To catch up, the group backs Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to spend $225 million on alternative energy, including $50 million for solar power.

    John Hanger, secretary of planning and policy for Wolf, said those funds would relaunch the PA Sunshine program, which provided subsidies for solar users beginning in 2009.

    “Solar power is going to reshape the energy industry across the United States,” he said. “And the question for Pennsylvania is, are we going to lead, or are we actually going to be at the back of the pack?”

    Also supporting the governor’s budget proposal is the electricians union, Local 98, which has been a national leader in teaching workers how to install solar panels.

    “I’m not here to give you a lecture on climate change,” said Local 98’s business manager, Johnny Dougherty, outside the union’s headquarters on Wednesday. “But they just washed half of Houston away in the last two days. We’ve had crazy winters and unbelievable summers. We have to do our part, too.”

    Training director for the union, Michael Neill, said with proper support from the state and city, solar power development could generate about 200 jobs.

    Disclosure: Local 98 represents union engineers at WHYY.

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