Green running out
Credit: By Robert Swift, Staff Writer, The Citizens' Voice | citizensvoice.com 27 May 2012 ~~
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HARRISBURG – The wind and solar industries in Pennsylvania got a boost the past several years from state energy mandates and financial aid, but continued growth for the industry may lie through other avenues as market conditions change.
A push by former Gov. Ed Rendell to develop alternative forms of energy led to a 2004 state law requiring electric utilities to purchase a sizeable share of their power from renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind.
Rendell provided state grants and loans for wind and solar projects and other renewable energy though the bond-financed $650 million Alternative Energy Investment Fund approved by lawmakers in 2008.
Federal stimulus money and federal tax credits also played a role in wind and solar development.
The result of these programs is a significant development of wind and solar power capacity in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has 17 wind farms generating 2 million megawatt-hours each year, enough to power 229,000 homes, according to PennFuture, an environmental group.
Pennsylvania has seen 4,000 solar projects ranging in scale from solar parks and warehouses to rooftop solar installations in public schools and apartment buildings.
“It (the investment) vastly increased the amount of solar energy that got deployed,” said PennFuture president Jan Jarrett.
Both industries have a growing presence in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Four wind farms are located along the ridge tops of the region: Waymart in Wayne County, Bear Creek in Luzerne County, Locust Ridge I and Locust Ridge II, both in Schuylkill County. BP Wind Energy is constructing a wind farm on a 9,000-acre site in Mehoopany, Noxen, Forkston and Eaton townships.
The PA Solar Park LLC under development at Nesquehoning in Carbon County received a $5.5 million state grant. Four solar projects in Schuylkill County received state grants of $1.5 million each.
Another regional venture is the privately financed Pocono Raceway solar farm in Monroe County. The total amount of electricity produced at the 25-acre raceway farm reached 5 million kilowatt-hours at the end of 2011, officials announced. Raceway officials boast they are the first to power their sport with sunlight.
But the available state financing for renewable and alternative energy projects is starting to run out. About $105 million is left with most of that sum reserved in the latter category, said Theresa Elliott, spokesman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
The Commonwealth Financing Authority recently approved $13.8 million for six projects across the state’s southern tier, including a wind farm in Somerset County that could generate 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s wind power when completed.
The current policy debate concerning renewables is the future of the State Energy Portfolio Standard, the law requiring utilities to purchase 18 percent of their power from alternate and renewable energy sources by 2020.
Under the program, utilities are required to draw 8 percent of their power supplies from Tier I sources that include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and methane. The solar purchase threshold is to hit 0.05 percent by 2020.
Utilities are to draw another 10 percent of their supplies from Tier II sources such as coal refuse, wood pulp and municipal solid waste.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission has recommended that natural gas be added as an alternative energy source under the portfolio act, but no moves have been made so far in this regard.
Solar advocates are pushing for legislation sponsored by Rep. Chris Ross, R-Unionville, to increase the solar purchase requirement to 1.5 percent as a way to help stabilize the price of solar energy credits and ensure growth of the industry.
However, the bill is opposed by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry on grounds that fostering competition and not government-mandated energy requirements is the best way to help consumers.
Meanwhile, a coalition of wind producers and environmentalists is encouraging electric consumers to purchase power from companies that use wind power through the existing choice programs for the retail market. They created a website, www.choosepawind.com, to educate the public.
“The power of customers to choose is the best instrument we have to build wind power in Pennsylvania,” said John Hanger, a former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
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