Editorial: Let more sun shine in

Posted: August 31, 2010

When the region finally cools down from its long, hot summer - this week, again driving demand for electricity sky-high - Gov. Rendell plans one more push to convince key Republican state legislative leaders that it's time to make greater strides on Pennsylvania's use of solar energy.

For state Senate leaders who control the course of much of what happens in Harrisburg, their decision could determine whether homeowners and businesses are left poorer and possibly in the dark.

Double-digit electricity rate hikes are being phased in by major utilities as rate caps expire. The record demand for electricity threatens the region's power grid with outages.

But solar energy can help.

A proposal destined for the state Senate that calls for a threefold increase in the state's solar-energy standard would be consumer- and business-friendly. As proposed by Rendell, the measure would boost the state's required solar-energy share from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent of all electricity used, a standard that would have to be met by 2021. That's enough electricity to power about 400,000 homes - up from the present goal of lighting 130,000 homes with solar energy.

Such a modest increase in solar-energy standards would move Pennsylvania closer to neighboring states where, as in New Jersey, as much as 4 percent of electricity will come from solar power over the next decade or so.

The entire state would benefit from cleaner air with the increased use of nonpolluting and renewable energy. More solar-generated power could provide a cushion against outages on peak-demand days.

But electricity consumers, in particular, would gain from the addition of new solar generating capacity.

Since solar works best during the hottest hours of the year, when wholesale electricity rates are pushed to their highest levels, it can help keep electricity prices down.

What's good for consumers' wallets, of course, may trim utility executives' bonuses. That could explain why there are few fans of a state mandate to grow this clean, renewable source of electricity at utilities like Exelon, or among coal producers and chamber of commerce types, including the GOP candidate for governor, Tom Corbett.

It certainly makes good business sense to prevent blackouts that threaten businesses with steep financial loss. In addition, solar benefits the state's economy, with more than 600 solar businesses based in Pennsylvania and other renewable-energy businesses like the wind-turbine manufacturer Gamesa.

With the Navy Yard's designation last week as an "energy innovation hub" - where Pennsylvania State University will use a $129 million federal grant to develop ways to build, rehab, and operate more energy-efficient buildings - the state could secure its foothold in alternative-energy economic development.

The solar-energy legislation's prospects rest heavily with suburban GOP lawmakers from this region: Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and his policy chairman, Edwin B. "Ted" Erickson, and consumer-affairs chairman Robert M. "Tommy" Tomlinson from Bucks. They can demonstrate forward-looking leadership by providing a brighter future for Pennsylvania's solar-energy industry.

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