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PUC selects firm to monitor rules on renewable energy

The state Public Utility Commission yesterday picked a California company to monitor compliance with a 2004 state law that requires electric utilities to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy.

Clean Power Markets Inc. won the contract on a 4-0 vote, but not before several commissioners expressed discomfort with potential conflicts of interest in the small, but growing renewable energy industry.

A PUC spokeswoman said later that the concerns centered on the firm’s client base. CPM manages similar programs in Wisconsin, Connecticut and New Jersey. It was acquired in October by Enerwise Global Technologies of Kennett Square. Enerwise, among other things, sets up and manages energy-saving programs for industrial and institutional customers and does work for electric utilities.

“This gives me extreme pause,” PUC Chairman Wendell Holland said. “The program administrator should be an entity that is able to act in a fair and impartial manner. Equally important, the program administrator should be able to perform fairly its duties free of bias based on prior professional experience as an advocate or proponent of a particular point of view or technology.”

Vice Chairman James Cawley said that in a small industry, nearly everyone has conflicts of interest.

He said the important thing is to write the contract between CPM and the PUC in such a way as to “insulate” the alternative energy administrator from “conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest.”

CPM President Jan Pepper said yesterday she is excited to get the Pennsylvania contract and understands the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest in a small industry where “everybody knows everybody else.”

“I’m not exactly sure what they’re talking about,” she added.

Pepper said CPM monitors production of about 900 megawatts of renewable energy production, both wind and solar power. Solar energy is particularly big in New Jersey, where generous state financial incentives have led to a boom in residential rooftop solar units.

The Rendell administration is opposed to residential solar incentives, viewing them as benefiting mainly the well-off. Instead, the state Department of Environmental Protection is pushing for utility-scale solar systems.

DEP recently celebrated the decision of Conergy, a leading German manufacturer of solar systems, to open its North American headquarters in Pennsylvania.

Even without state incentives, Pepper said, a homeowner with a 4 kilowatt rooftop solar electric generator can earn as much as $1,600 a year in Pennsylvania by selling renewable energy credits to utilities under the renewable energy program.

The state law requires that, beginning this year, at least 1.5 percent of the electricity sold on the retail market by utilities come from renewable sources, with the amount rising each year. By 2020, at least 18 percent of a utility’s electricity sold must come from approved renewable sources.

By David DeKok
Of The Patriot-News
255-8173 or ddekok@patriot-news.com