Pennsylvania tackles a solar problem: How to get more electricity from the sun

  • Amy Sisk
Workers from Solar States (from left) Patrick Whittaker, Rida Bouharoun, and Dennis Hajnik, install solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Workers from Solar States (from left) Patrick Whittaker, Rida Bouharoun, and Dennis Hajnik, install solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Solar energy advocates want to dramatically increase the amount of electricity generated from solar panels in the state.

Representatives from the industry, clean energy groups and state officials met Thursday in Pittsburgh to continue work on a plan to get 10 percent of the state’s electricity from solar by 2030. Currently, solar power makes up 0.25 percent of Pennsylvania’s power mix, said Dave Althoff with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Energy Assistance.

The effort stems from a $550,000 grant the DEP received from the U.S. energy department.

Althoff said Pennsylvania’s solar projects are relatively small. They include rooftop solar installations and panels installed alongside businesses.

If the industry is to reach that 10 percent mark, he said the scale of the projects will need to change.

“When we talk about 50 MW and 100 MW solar farms, those don’t exist in Pennsylvania right now,” he said. “In order for us to make this goal, those types of things are going to have to exist.”

Attendees at Thursday’s meeting discussed a host of potential ideas to help the industry, from allowing utilities to own solar projects to carbon pricing and increasing the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard.

Rob Altenburg, director of the PennFuture Energy Center, said the final version of the plan will offer a variety of strategies to inform policymakers.

“What we’re looking at is what is the way to make that mix happen, what sort of incentives would be necessary to make that mix happen, and also as the price of solar drops and the market drives us toward more and more solar, what sort of barriers we have to be aware of,” he said.

The group intends to release a draft of the plan for public comment in June.