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Renewable Energy Expo offers options for the future

by Stewart Gross

On Sunday, August 4th, Penn Environment sponsored a Bucks County Environmental Energy Expo at the Middletown Township Recreation Building on Trenton Road in Levittown.

The mission of the state-wide, citizen-based, non-profit advocacy group is to promote practical steps for local residents in moving towards more cost-efficient, renewable energy and cut greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.

Community members who came out to the event wanted to know about the cost-effectiveness of installing solar panels on their homes and using hybrid or electrical powered cars (EV’s), and how these measures would help their personal budgets.

Residents inquired if local school districts could put solar panels on schools to save tax dollars.

According to Middletown Supervisor Amy Strouse, “One resident I spoke with has a $9 per month electric bill through utilizing solar panels.”

She adds that, “We are using money provided by PA Solar to build charging stations in Middletown Township for residents driving electric cars.”

Strouse’s point is, “If a resident sees that they save of dollars using renewable energy and have more money in their pocket books, that is the easiest sell for most people.”

The Grid

Our neighbor county, Montgomery County, is beginning to get electricity from wind farms in Texas through the US’s immense power grid.

Local consumers should be aware of the concept of getting your energy through the power grid from another part of the country, since PA Power Switch has been part of their lives for almost a decade.

PECO customers can choose any electrical provider throughout the entire country, many of whom have lower kilowatt per hour costs than PECO formerly provided.

PECO customers can simply select a Green electrical provider that is listed right along with the traditional fossil fuel providers.

If it’s on the power grid, you can get it. The link for this is papowerswitch.com, provided by the PA Public Utility Commission.

This reporter decided to see if I could switch to green energy and save on my electric bill.

I have been paying 7.9 cents per kWh with Constellation Energy (formerly Con Edison).

The lowest electrical provider I found on the PA Power Switch website was Brighten Energy out of Irving, Texas at 5.7 cents per kWh.

They use 100% wind energy. That’s a one-year fixed rate, with no cancellation or enrollment costs, the same as Constellation, which uses coal and nuclear generators.

My current monthly PECO bill (which I do as a budget plan) is $141 per month for electric and natural gas.

The bill breaks down to $119 per month for electric and $22 per month for gas. My electric portion will go down approximately $25, bringing it to about $96 monthly.

I’m going to lower my electric bill by close to 21%.  Fortress Power was represented at the Expo.

They have created a lithium ion storage battery, the size of a mini-refrigerator, that can store enough energy to power a home for a day if it is off of the power grid.

Local residents who install solar power do not have enough direct sun in this area to go 100% off of the grid and have to use a hybrid of solar generation and electrical providers to power their homes.

The net cost is far less for the consumer over the year, making them a great cost cutting option.

When batteries can store considerably more power than Fortess’ current state of the art battery, then roof-mounted solar panels will be able to take homes off the grid.

Transportation

In my interview with Amanda Lapam of PennEnvironment, my question was about transportation.

Transportation, not coal burning power plants, is the leading CO2 emitter in the world.

So my question has always been, how viable are electric vehicles? 

Currently, plug-in electric vehicles such as the Tesla have a driving limit of only 200 miles before they must be charged and are very expensive vehicles.

On-hand at the Expo were Tesla, the EV (Electric Vehicle) Jaguar, and Nissan’s latest hybrid to begin answering that question.

According to Maggie O’Neill, Executive Manager at O’Neill Nissan in Warminster, automakers predict that there will be many EV’s in the sub $30,000 range, which already includes their Nissan Leaf, which retails for 29,990.

This would begin placing them in the working person’s price range.

Amy Strouse pointed to PA state rebate programs to help consumers defray the costs of Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFV’s) and hybrids.

Pennsylvania provides cash rebates to consumers for the purchase of new plug-in hybrids, plug-in electric, natural gas, propane, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, known as the AFV (Alternative Fuel Vehicle) Rebate Program.

Drivers who purchase an AFV have six months after their purchase to apply online through the PA DCED (Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development).

The website link for applying is https://www.esa.dced.state.pa.us/login.aspx.

There is also a federal tax credit through the IRS for the same vehicles. Qualifying vehicles are eligible for a tax credit ranging from $400 to $4,000 based on fuel economy.

The car manufacturers and the IRS will certify the tax credit amount of qualifying vehicles. 

You must file IRS Tax Form 8910: Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit electronically or by paper.

The link to this form is https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8910.pdf.