Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the U.S. for percent growth in solar power generation since 2012, according to a new online report released recently by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. The dashboard, Renewables on the Rise 2022, documents the growth of six key clean energy technologies across the U.S. over the past decade: solar power, wind power, battery storage, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and heat pumps.
While Pennsylvania ranks 20th in the nation for total wind generation, the amount of electricity it gets from wind has remained almost stagnant since 2013 – growing just 5% over the last 9 years or less than 200 GWh. Currently, Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation for percent growth in total solar, wind, and geothermal power generation since 2012. In 2019, Governor Wolf signed an executive order that put forth the goal of a 26% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and a 80% reduction by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. The 2021 Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan from the Department of Environmental Protection found that as of 2017 Pennsylvania has reduced greenhouse gas emissions 19.2% below 2005 levels.
“So far, Pennsylvania has been missing out on the renewable energy party happening nationwide, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Ellie Kerns, the Climate Change Associate with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “We’ve even seen remarkable gains in other states with a long history of fossil fuel production, similar to Pennsylvania. For example, Texas is ranked 2nd in solar generation and 1st in wind generation, and Oklahoma ranks 3rd in wind generation. This progress should give Pennsylvanians the confidence we need to build on this nationwide momentum and catch up with our neighbors.”
Renewable energy growth in Pennsylvania has been slow in part because many proposed solar and wind projects have been delayed or even canceled.
“As neighboring states continue to make important investments in renewable energy, Pennsylvania is at a crossroads in fully realizing the economic, public health, and environmental benefits of this rapidly advancing industry,” said State Senator Carolyn Comitta, Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “Embracing the full potential of renewables is an emissions-reducing, cost-saving, economy-building, and forward-thinking goal for Pennsylvania families, workers, children, and communities.”
The opportunity for more impactful change is available, bipartisan legislation to require the commonwealth to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050 has been introduced in both the state house and senate during each of the last three legislative sessions. So far 10 states have committed to 100% clean energy. These states include neighboring Maryland, with the aim of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, and New Jersey, aiming for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 through an executive order from Governor Murphy.
“Investing in clean and sustainable energy sources are the foundation of a thriving public health,” says State Senator Amanda Cappelletti. “By investing in Go 100 PA, we will be able to support the long-term environmental and financial health of Pennsylvanians by investing in clean energy projects, imposing stricter regulations on the fracking industry, and expanding electrical vehicle infrastructure.”
“Enhancing Pennsylvania’s energy efficiency standards is an effortless, yet highly effective way to protect our environment without interrupting anyone’s daily lives. By having efficiency standards for both commercial and residential appliances throughout the commonwealth, we can conserve several billions of gallons of water every year, significantly reduce air pollution and simultaneously help people save money on their utility bills,” said Pennsylvania State Representative Jennifer O’Mara. “Instead of debating which types of energy we should invest in for a more sustainable future, my bill pivots the conversation to simply creating less energy in the first place.”
Although Pennsylvania has been experiencing slow growth of renewables over the past decade, the commonwealth still has nearly 1000 GWh of solar generation and more than 3,500 GWh of wind generation – enough to power more than 370,000 homes’ electricity use. Still 95.25% of the state’s energy comes from non-renewable sources, mainly methane gas, coal, and nuclear.
“The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a unique and critical opportunity to commit to a clean energy future as one of only two states with constitutions containing a provision dedicated to environmental stewardship,” said Pennsylvania State Representative Chris Rabb. “As one of the largest net exporters of energy of any state, Pennsylvania can distinguish itself by becoming a leader in transitioning to renewable energy toward lowering and stabilizing utilities cost for consumers, creating family-sustaining jobs and addressing our climate crisis once and for all.”
In addition to highlighting states that have made the most progress in adopting renewable energy technologies, the research also details the rapid gains achieved nationally over the past decade. According to the report, America as a whole produced more than three times as much renewable electricity from the sun and the wind in 2021 as in 2012.
“PennEnvironment’s new report reveals the actual facts and figures to prove what many of us have suspected for years: Pennsylvania has fallen behind, WAY behind,” says Liz Robinson, the executive director of Philadelphia Solar Energy Association. “The global transition to a clean energy economy is well underway, and Pennsylvania is sitting on the sidelines. We are losing jobs, losing talent, losing manufacturing and other opportunities to neighboring states. It is time to wake up, Pennsylvania!”
The Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden this summer, offers consumers tax credits and discounts on more than a dozen types of energy-saving purchases, including new and used electric vehicles, rooftop solar, geothermal heating and cooling, upgrading electric panels, and heat pump HVAC systems, water heaters and clothes dryers. Some of these credits are currently available, but many will be phased in over time. People can get notifications when new benefits become available by signing up for email updates from the Department of Energy.
There are groups ready and able to help citizens make use of the incentives. “Solarize programs make informed decisions easy with no-pressure information and access to vetted contractors providing installation at negotiated below market prices,” says Solarize Delco’s Peter Puglionesi, a group of neighbors teaching neighbors about the technology, financing, and experience of going solar. “With electric bills up, solar costs down, and Solarize Delco offering leasing and fixed income grant options – there’s never been a better time to install solar.”
Modeling by Energy Innovation found that the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act will spur clean energy and reduce pollution from fossil fuels – aiming to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030. These reductions in emissions could prevent 3,700 to 3,900 deaths and 100,000 asthma attacks each year by 2030.
State policies like updating Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, promoting community solar, increasing incentives for renewables, and setting the state on a path towards 100% renewable energy would help spur clean energy even further in the Commonwealth.
“This report offers a timely reminder that we have an immense, largely untapped opportunity when it comes to clean energy here in Pennsylvania and we should take full advantage of federal tax credits to help realize our clean energy potential,” Kerns said. “Pennsylvanians are already reaping the benefits of the progress we’ve made so far, but there is so much more we can do to usher in the clean, renewable energy future we need, starting with passing the 100% Renewable Energy Bill.”