Pennsylvania's too cool to solar energy

PEDRO MOLINA
PEDRO MOLINA
Posted: June 14, 2012

Given the importance of maintaining Pennsylvania's foothold in the solar industry, there's no good reason for Harrisburg lawmakers to have delayed action for more than a year on a plan that would boost the use of sun-derived energy.

As another hot summer approaches — when solar energy could help electric utilities meet the soaring demand to keep consumers cool — it's long past time to tweak the state's modest solar-energy standards.

A plan drafted by State Rep. Chris Ross (R., Chester) would do just that by accelerating the pace at which utilities serving Pennsylvania increase their use of solar energy over the next few years.

But in a reasonable compromise that considers objections by utilities, coal producers, and business groups, Ross would leave in place the state's goal to have 0.5 percent of its electricity come from the sun in about a decade.

Ross says his plan aims to guard against booms and busts in the industry due to fluctuating demand.

As things stand, the state's solar experiment could become a victim of its own success, with supply outstripping demand, unless utilities order more solar-generated power. At stake are several thousand jobs in an industry with 600 businesses already being thinned out by soft demand.

While critics point to solar's higher per-kilowatt cost, and note that it generates power only when the sun shines, they ignore the jobs being created, the environmental benefits, and, most important, that solar energy provides the reserve power needed to meet peak electricity demand on the hottest days and avoid outages.

After nearly a year in the hopper, Ross' bill finally was aired in January before the House Consumer Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Robert W. Godshall (R., Montgomery). It's time for the House to stop all the delays and take action on the bill now.

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