Time for PA’s energy freedom | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
August 1, 2022
The Public Utility Commission (PUC) warned customers in May that all of the state’s electric utilities intended to significantly raise their prices on June 1, ranging from 6% to 45%. The PUC said this is because “higher wholesale market prices for electricity, fueled in large part by shifts in supply and demand for natural gas, have increased purchasing costs for electric distribution companies and thus driven up many (Prices to Compare).”
Simply stated, this unbelievable price hike is largely due to our state’s failure to diversify our energy mix. Natural gas is dominating Pennsylvania’s electricity generation at more than 50%, and it is predicted to grow to 70% by 2030 as it hedges out coal and nuclear plants. Because of geopolitical issues disrupting global supply networks, Europe is turning to the US and other countries to provide natural gas, causing the price of natural gas to skyrocket — and in turn, so has the price of the electricity that it fuels.
Dependence on any one kind of energy is a precarious situation, particularly when those resources are subject to worldwide markets that are influenced by actions of unstable nations. To keep prices down, Pennsylvania needs to diversify its energy mix.
We can only find true energy freedom by expanding solar energy, as well as other renewables like wind and low-impact hydro, combined with battery storage, microgrids and grid stabilization technology, to generate a greater portion of our electricity, and by reducing overall demand with energy efficiency measures.
Currently, renewable energy sources comprise less than 4% of Pennsylvania’s energy mix with solar at only 0.5% — that’s right, only half of 1%. Increasing renewables will bring diversity to the market and help protect ratepayers from the price spikes that just went into effect.
And once we get to 5% solar on the grid, there is benefit to all consumers as the cost of electricity starts to decline – even for those that don’t have solar on their rooftops. Once we get to 10% solar, rate payers will start to save $619 million annually. This is because solar is most productive when energy demand is at its highest. This is the same time of day when we historically need to call up dirty and very expensive peaker plants to meet the extra demand of hot summer and cold winter months. Solar (as well as storage) can actually displace the need to run peaker plants and bring down the cost of wholesale electricity.
The Pennsylvania Solar Center has also seen firsthand how solar has directly reduced and even eliminated energy bills for countless organizations across the state. Farms, businesses, schools, local governments, faith communities and homeowners — more than 30,000 solar owners in the state to date — are taking the power of solar energy into their own hands. They are becoming energy independent.
So, it was extremely disappointing that the General Assembly left Harrisburg for the summer without passing one clean energy bill. No increase to our weak renewable goals that were originally set in 2004. No passage of community solar that would allow renters or those who don’t have good sun on their properties to subscribe to a portion of a solar system, get credit on their utility bills, and lock in a low energy price for years.
Increasing our solar and clean energy goals would also be massive job creators, spawning tens of thousands of jobs across the supply chain and bringing billions of private investment into the state. We ask then — why has Harrisburg not taken action? Maybe they haven’t heard from you yet.
We implore our legislators to recognize the devastating impact of high energy bills, especially on small businesses and those on low or fixed incomes who can’t afford a 40-plus percent increase. We hope that they will provide relief for these customers in the short-term as well as expand clean energy to create stability for the longer term, and for everyone.
If you don’t want a monopoly on energy, tell your legislators that it’s time to diversify our electricity with more renewable energy and battery storage.
Sharon Pillar is executive director of the Pennsylvania Solar Center, a nonprofit effort based in Pittsburgh dedicated to bringing the benefits of solar energy to all Pennsylvanians.