Solar-power initiative fails again in Pennsylvania

Posted: October 26, 2010

The sun has not yet officially set on this year's legislative session in Harrisburg, but it has on an effort to increase the state requirement for use of solar power.

"For all practical purposes, it's dead," Maureen Mulligan, lobbyist for Pennsylvania's two largest solar-advocacy groups, declared in an e-mail Monday.

It's the third time in two years that a legislative proposal to boost the state's commitment to alternative energy has failed to even reach a vote in the full House or Senate. The latest attempt, started in the summer, sought to whittle the number of opponents by mandating solar requirements only - rather than proposing higher alternative energy standards across the board.

Advocates were seeking a solar portion of 1.5 percent. Currently, solar must make up 0.5 percent of the alternative sources that utilities must tap by 2021.

That standard, along with Pennsylvania's other alternative energy-use requirements, was adopted in 2004. At the time, Pennsylvania was a leader in mandating amounts of power that utility companies had to draw from alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.

Surrounding states - including New Jersey and Delaware - have since adopted higher mandates, something a frustrated John Hanger, Pennsylvania's environmental secretary, noted Monday. He cautioned that the lack of progress on at least a solar-only bill could cost the state jobs - the 3,000 he attributed to Pennsylvania's fledgling solar industry and "tens of thousands that are possible."

"We can see the promise," Hanger said. "But the question is whether we're going to actually build on this impressive foundation or let it wither."

Mulligan on Monday was not ready to commit to another solar push: "We'll see how the elections go and what interest there is, whether it's worth pursuing anything again."

Hanger blamed "organized opposition" led by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and owners of existing power plants for failure to advance alternative-energy legislation.Gene Barr, a chamber official, took exception to Hanger's singling out his organization. Barr contended there was "widespread opposition to these mandates from virtually all of the state business associations, including energy providers and consumers."

The chamber objected to carving out a market for one group of businesses to the detriment of those in the nuclear, natural gas, coal, and other emerging-technology industries," Barr said.

George Ellis, president of the Pennsylvania Coal Industry, said he was "certainly pleased" the solar bill has faded. The coal industry, which provides 54 percent of Pennsylvania's electricity, already considers itself under growing competitive pressure, in large part because of stricter operating requirements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ellis said.

Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or

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