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Pa. lawmakers debate proposal to raise state’s renewable energy goal

  • Rachel McDevitt
A wind energy farm in Somerset County.

Tim Lambert / WITF

A wind energy farm in Somerset County.

A bill in the state House would increase the amount of electricity Pennsylvania gets from renewable sources.

The proposal would up Pennsylvania’s renewable energy goals from 8% now to 30% by 2030.

The Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act mandates that Pennsylvania’s electricity companies buy 8% of their power from renewable sources, including 0.5% of solar energy generated within the state. Electric providers hit that goal in 2021. The new measure would increase the percentage of renewables to 30%, with new goals for in-state grid-scale solar, community solar, and rooftop solar.

If passed, it would fulfill one of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s campaign pledges.

Supporters of H.B. 1467 say it would help ratepayers save on energy bills and create jobs in the wind and solar industries.

But some Republican lawmakers questioned how more renewables on the grid could affect reliability during a recent hearing on the bill.

“Pennsylvania’s an energy powerhouse and when we start applying additional requirements on the AEPS and applying additional mandates, we’re starting to limit opportunity and I think that that could be a detriment to our grid,” said Rep. Martin Causer (R-McKean), minority chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

The House is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, following the resignation of a Democratic member who was elected to a judge position. A special election to fill the seat is scheduled for Feb. 13. Democrats who control the chamber have not scheduled any voting days until the new representative is seated.

A spokesperson for the House Democratic caucus says leaders are reviewing the bill. The House Republican caucus did not return a request for comment on its position.

Asim Haque with electric grid operator PJM said they are projecting a possible lack of supply later this decade because of the lag time for new projects.

“We’re pushing projects through the queue right now but we’re not seeing a lot of iron in the ground,” Haque said.

He noted PJM has approved 44,000 megawatts of power that have not yet been built, due to financing, supply chain, and local zoning issues.

But PJM has been slow to approve projects, with wait times averaging 4 years. PJM recently updated how it reviews projects in an effort to speed the process.

Haque said the short term reliability issue has to do with the grid’s resilience to extreme weather.

Severe storms and sudden swings in temperatures are made more likely by climate change, which is made worse by burning fossil fuels.

David Althoff, who directs the Energy Programs Office in the Department of Environmental Protection, said the administration supports the bill.

He said distributed generation–like rooftop solar–can help the grid cope with spikes in demand.

“There needs to be certain resources in communities that actually help the grid get back up or support the grid in that critical moment,” Althoff said.

Pennsylvania lags behind its neighbors New York, New Jersey and Maryland, which have all set more renewables goals of 50% or higher.

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