A group of Pennsylvania Senate Democrats have brought up again a bill, Senate Bill 300, that would require the commonwealth produce 30% of its energy from alternative and renewable source.
The bill, along with a similar bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, would update the 2004 Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act that requires 8% of energy in Pennsylvania to come from Tier 1 sources including solar and wind. The sponsors say the law is 17 years old and is in sore need of updating at a time when the impact of climate change is being felt in Pennsylvania and around the country and globe. Pennsylvania’s 8% of Tier 1 renewable energy sources will be met in 2021 at a time when neighboring states like New York, Maryland and Delaware have set more aggressive targets.
“The impacts of climate change, in our weather, our economy, our environment and our public health is growing more serious every day, as we see, as does the urgent need to adequately address the climate crisis, reduce our emissions and transition to the clean energy economy,” said state Sen. Carolyn T. Comitta, D-Chester County. “The bottom line is that climate change isn’t stopping and neither should we.”
The bill would require not only a greater amount of alternative energy in Pennsylvania but also increase solar’s footprint to 7.5% for in-state grid-scale solar and 2.5% for in-state distributed solar generation. It would also get the Public Utility Commission to study a state renewable energy storage program, which would allow for more resiliency during the night and when the wind isn’t blowing. And it would also seek to limit the costs of electricity increasing.
It’s separate from the efforts by Gov. Tom Wolf to have Pennsylvania join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of states that seek to limit emissions from power plants and incentivizes reductions or eliminations. The coal industry and others, including in the state Legislature, have sought to halt Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI as tantamount to killing the coal mining and coal-fired generation industry and the service jobs that support it. State Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Newton, said the coal industry and coal-fired power plants were closing even without RGGI because of market forces. Santarsiero said he applauded RGGI and Wolf’s efforts.
“That is an important effort but by itself is not enough,” Santarsiero said of RGGI. “I say that not to be critical. The governor is doing what he can do given the majorities in our Legislature seem incapable or unwilling to address this issue. That needs to change.”
The GOP-controlled House and Senate have been reluctant to join RGGI, including approving a bill that would give the General Assembly a role in joining carbon-trading programs. The GOP has also been supportive of the natural gas and coal industries and the economic benefits they bring to the state.
But Santarsiero, Comitta, and state Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery County, the three prime sponsors of the bill, said that beyond the environmental aspects, committing to clean energy is an economic imperative that will bring thousands of good paying jobs and billions of dollars in private investment to Pennsylvania.
Haywood said there’s an estimated 350 grid-level projects that are ready and waiting for legislation like Senate Bill 300.
“These are jobs and businesses that we can bring to our state and if we do not bring to our state, the solar story will continue without us, because there is a solar story of renewable energy and it is all about growth,” Haywood said. “There is a wind story for renewable energy, it is all about growth. The question is will Pennsylvania be left behind.”
State Sen. Katie J. Muth, D-Royersford, said that time was running out for the climate crisis and there’s a path forward.
“We need to go from an extractive economy to a renewable one, and one that is sustainable moving forward and that is completely doable,” Muth said. “We have the plans from other states, we have the data showing it’s possible … Unfortunately we’re late to the game so we have a lot of work to do to catch up in time.”
The bill, introduced Tuesday, has as prime sponsors three senators from eastern Pennsylvania. But in a question from the Business Times during a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Santarsiero said there was support from Sen. Wayne Fontana and Sen. Jay Costa, both Allegheny County Democrats. But he acknowledged support in the House and Senate was unclear.
“We have an uphill climb on this,” Santarsiero said. “That’s just the reality of the composition of the General Assembly right now.”
But Comitta said that environmental issues were once nonpartisan and she believes that will happen again.
“I believe that we are approaching a time when we will not be talking about the climate crisis and renewable energy and clean energy in a partisan manner, because it isn’t,” she said. “The corporate world is already taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions, businesses, international down to local, their shareholders, their employees, stakeholders are demanding it and they see where we are headed.”