Energy. Environment. Economy.

Wolf’s budget proposal plus renewed private investment could give solar a boost

n this undated photo provided by Tami and Randy Wilson, solar panels are installed on the Harrisburg, Pa. home of the Wilson's. When their utility announced a 30 to 40 percent rate increase, the Wilsons installed solar panels which provided their 1,500 square foot ranch home with all of its needs. Between the monthly utility savings, government subsidies, solar renewable energy certificates and carbon credits, the Wilson's expect to pay off their $58,000 solar system in six years.

Tami and Randy Wilson / AP Photo

In this undated photo, solar panels are installed on the Harrisburg, Pa. home of Tami and Randy Wilson.

Solar energy has taken a back seat to shale gas in Pennsylvania in recent years. But it’s getting renewed attention, thanks in part to a proposal from Governor Tom Wolf and new legislation aimed at funding the lapsed Pennsylvania Sunshine Solar, a rebate program for homeowners and small businesses. Investment from a large solar service provider could also bring more of this renewable energy, plus jobs, to southeastern Pennsylvania.

More than 33,000 Pennsylvania homes get their power from the sun, yet the state lags behind its neighbors in New York, New Jersey and Ohio, according to nonprofit The Solar Foundation. It doesn’t fare much better when it comes to jobs in this sector, offering just 2,800 compared to more than 7,000 in both New York and New Jersey.

State Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) said making this alternative energy more of a priority demands a two-fold approach: Relaunch Sunshine Solar and up the percentage of energy that companies like PECO must provide from renewable sources. “The Pennsylvania requirement is low relative to other states,” Vitali said. “Increasing our Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard would help.”

Vitali introduced House Bill 100 in February that would raise renewable energy requirements from 8 percent to 15 percent by 2023. He also authored House Bill 200, which puts $25 million a year toward Pennsylvania Sunshine Solar.

Funding for that program, which ran dry in November 2013, could come from another place, too: Wolf’s proposed $225 million bond package for alternative energy, which earmarks $50 million for it. The money could in theory result from Wolf’s severance tax proposal.

Reviving Sunshine Solar could mean much greater adoption of this energy statewide, Vitali said. “People want to put solar panels on their roofs, but if it doesn’t make sense from a dollars-and-cents perspective, that turns people away.”

SolarCity, a 10-year old renewable energy provider working in more than a dozen states, has a plan of attack.

On March 12, the company announced a new solar energy loan program, as well as plans to once again offer service in Philadelphia and its surrounds. “[People] are very attracted to solar and they generally want to use clean power but they don’t necessarily want to make a financial sacrifice,” said Jonathan Bass, a SolarCity spokesman. “If you can offer them a clean power option at a discount of the local utility rate, then they become very interested.”

Currently SolarCity doesn’t have operations in Pennsylvania, but according to Bass, the company is scoping out a physical location for a center that will have 30 positions to fill—a number that may sound low but in reality represents about one percent of the state’s solar jobs.

Despite the renewed interest in promoting solar energy, to get the money Wolf seeks for it, the Democratic governor may still have an uphill battle ahead of him. “There’s concern about why one industry would be expected to subsidize its competitors,” Kevin Sunday, government affairs manager of The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Even some who support the proposal expressed concerns about depending on any industry, period, but in particular one that experiences such regular ups and down.

Vitali said even with obstacles, this can be done.

“There just needs to be some horse trading. That’s the give and take of politics,” he added. “This can be done. It involves trade-offs.”


  • AlSever

    Great statement–” but if it doesn’t make sense from a dollars-and-cents perspective, that turns people away.” So we taxpayers have to subsidize it!
    Bunch of scam artists like the Bio-Fuel jerks who want a state subsidy of $2 a gallon.
    On the other hand, tearing down all of Philly to build a solar farm just might be worth subsidizing.

  • imforit

    GOOGLE and APPLE have recently invested big bucks in solar but they are also receiving tax benefits.. Of course the fossil fuel industry gets its tax breaks so the taxpayers are on the hook no matter what.

  • Bryan

    Here’s a few points to think about if you’re considering solar in Pennsylvania:

    1. Pricing for solar has dropped to historically low levels. Today a name brand, average sized 4.75 kW grid tie solar system that will produce up to 600 kWh per month with only 5 hours of peak sunshine per day.can now be purchased for less than $2.20 a watt after applying the tax credit or less than $11,000. No solar leasing company on the planet can approach this level of pricing.

    2. Nearly all of the leased solar systems that have been installed in the U.S. are designed to turn themselves off during a power outage. And even though you have all those solar panels installed on your roof and even though you’re responsible for paying 20 years were of lease payments, during a power failure, even during daylight hours, you won’t even be able to charge your cell phone with that solar leasing company’s solar system.

    3. The Federal governments, NREL (The National Renewable Energy Laboratory) just released a report that says that It’s far cheaper to pay cash for a system or save about 29% by getting a loan instead of an expensive solar lease or PPA. Don’t get blindsided by the solar leasing company’s balloon payment or their 2.9% annual payment increases.

    Solar in Pennsylvania has truly become affordable today. Just make sure that you compare quotes from at least 6 dealers before you commit to a system. Don’t just shop the big solar leasing companies or even the small local dealers. Use a search engine such as Yahoo to (enter the name of your state followed by the word solar) and you’ll come of with hundreds of results to compare pricing. Pricing can vary by tens of thousand of dollars for the same system. Be smart, shop before you buy or lease.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »