Editorial: Is now the time for solar in Western Pennsylvania?

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/TribLIVE
April 2, 2024

Pennsylvania has been defined by energy for years — from the first oil derrick in the U.S. to widespread coal production to the natural gas reservoirs of the Marcellus shale. But solar energy doesn’t seem synonymous with the often-overcast Keystone State.

Will that change with recent proposals? The Pennsylvania Solar Center believes it is possible with projects in New Kensington and Harrison.

At its core, the embrace of solar power represents a shift toward sustainability. That change isn’t cheap, requiring investment in new technology. It could pay off in the long run, however.

For the New Kensington city hall and police department, the up-front costs are about $31,000. But estimates suggest a $33,000 savings in the first year and $837,900 over 25 years.

It wouldn’t be the first such investment in the area should it happen. The Solar Center has a solar array on New Kensington’s Pioneer Apartments building owned by Wesley Family Services. Virtual mapping by the nonprofit Solar Center suggests more than 50 buildings in the New Kensington and Harrison areas could install solar equipment, resulting in $45 million in utility savings over 25 years.

This could be more than just a chance to cut costs. It might be an opportunity to take money out of the expense column and move it into investment in things that matter to communities.

It also could address issues of what hurts the areas. New Kensington and nine other communities in Westmoreland County and the Alle-Kiski Valley are Justice40 communities — places designated by government as economically disadvantaged and dealing with pollution. If the clean energy proposals do what they are supposed to, solar could free up money for other investments and reduce the negative impacts of pollution.

The question is will it live up to the hype? You don’t know until you try.

It is hard to get people to give up the power sources they know and understand in favor of something with high cost and less of a track record. It is understandable people are reluctant to accept that risk.

But federal incentives are available to relieve some of that burden. Westmoreland County has been named an “energy community” by the U.S. Department of Energy. That means commercial operations are eligible for a 40% reduction in the cost of a solar power project in the form of tax credits and direct-pay options through the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

The potential cost savings in the long term is attractive. The available incentives only increase that.

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