Key to lower energy prices is diversification

Johnstown Tribune Democrat
July 22, 2022

With energy costs soaring these days, it is time for our state to promote healthy diversification of the energy market in order to keep prices affordable, reliable and secure.

As the Public Utility Commission warned us in May, all of the state electric utilities increased their prices by 6% to 45%, largely due to increasing demand for natural gas from Europe as a result of geopolitical tensions in Ukraine.

Natural gas currently dominates Pennsylvania’s electricity mix at more than 50% of the market, and it is projected to take over close to 70% by 2030. Needless to say, this near-monopoly on energy is dangerous.

The most abundant, natural energy resource in Pennsylvania is actually the photon – those little packets of sunlight that make the state one of the greenest in the country during the summer.

Photons are bouncing all around us every day of the year. To create solar electricity, we only need the photon collectors – solar panels – that convert those photons into electricity.

Once the technology is paid for, the energy is free, unlike traditional energy resources that are dependent upon constantly extracting natural resource from the earth – and the market prices of which are forever volatile.

However, renewable energy sources such as solar comprise less than 4% of Pennsylvania’s energy mix, with solar at only 0.5%. Increasing renewables on the grid would diversify the market, protecting ratepayers from the large price spikes we are currently experiencing.

That’s the real benefit of getting more solar on the grid – that it will lower prices for everyone, even for those that don’t have solar on their rooftops. The reason for this is that when energy demand is at its highest – during hot summer days – this is exactly the time that most solar energy is going onto the grid as well.

When this happens, it decreases the need to use expensive “peaker” plants to meet all that energy demand and keeps the cost of wholesale electricity lower for everyone.

With the addition of energy storage (batteries for wind and solar) and grid stabilization technologies, we can level out peaks and valleys in supply and demand even more throughout the day.

Of course, we will not move to 100% solar energy in the next decade and energy sources such as nuclear and natural gas will still play an important role for the foreseeable future.

However, moving to just 10% solar by 2030 can create an economic win for Pennsylvanians by creating more stable energy pricing.

Of course, those who do choose to go solar get double the benefit, as solar panels directly reduce and can even eliminate energy bills altogether.

More than 30,000 farms, businesses, schools, local governments, faith communities and homeowners across the state have experienced this and have found real energy freedom.

It’s now time for all Pennsylvanians to benefit from energy independence. This can only be done by increasing the solar share of our electricity mix, as well as the shares for other renewables such as wind and low-impact hydro, energy storage and grid stabilization technology.

Expanding all of these would also create tens of thousands of family-sustaining jobs and bring billions of dollars in investment to the state.

However, legislators have left the Capitol for summer recess without passing any laws to diversify our energy market. With millions of Pennsylvanians facing hefty energy bill hikes – many of whom are on low or fixed incomes – this is unacceptable.

The time for energy freedom is now. If you don’t want a monopoly on energy in Pennsylvania, tell your legislators that it’s time to diversify our electricity with more renewable energy and storage.

Sharon Pillar is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Solar Center, a nonprofit effort based in Pittsburgh dedicated to bringing the benefits of solar energy to all Pennsylvanians.

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