In Pennsylvania, a bipartisan coalition is pushing to free community solar from bureaucratic red tape

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May 3, 2021 - 2:50pm

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This artifact discusses the challenges to cooperative solar farms in Pennsylvania. 

Centennial Parkside Community Development Corporation (CPCDC), a nonprofit that supports local businesses, maintains affordable housing, and keeps the neighborhood green, hopes to turn blight into opportunity by establishing solar-farm cooperatives that would provide residents with affordable clean energy and bring new investments to the community. The idea is to remediate underutilized land and use it to erect solar arrays. Nearby institutions like the Philadelphia Zoo and the University of Pennsylvania would purchase energy from the project, and CPCDC would use the resulting revenue to finance the construction of more rooftop solar arrays, along with programs like job training and food pantries. Residents can also subscribe, and their ownership stakes would earn them credits from PECO, the local utility, for providing renewable energy to the grid, reducing their overall energy bills. 

The plan is undone by one thing: Pennsylvania, like 29 other states, bars ownership of photovoltaic arrays by more than one entity. Past efforts to change that outdated law have failed in the face of intense opposition by energy companies, but a bipartisan coalition of solar advocates, farmers, and lawmakers hopes to push a new bill through the statehouse. 

The recent blackouts in Texas only make cooperative energy more attractive. Shared solar would give resident owners a say in operations, ensuring that reliability is prioritized. That’s especially important in majority-Black communities, like East Parkside, which have historically faced energy insecurity.

People have been trying to change the law in Pennsylvania since 2018, when Democratic state Representative Donna Bullock introduced legislation that would eliminate the state’s restriction.

Despite its bipartisan support, the bill failed to overcome a lack of inertia within the state legislature. Opposition to solar is everywhere — some folks consider arrays unsightly and worry about them driving down property values, according to NPR, while others worry about the impact on wildlife and storm drainage. According to Scavello, for-profit utility companies remain a key hurdle to adopting community solar. He says he’s found that companies worry about cooperative arrays undermining profits. “When you introduce something, no matter what the legislation is, you’ll find people that you didn’t expect to come out against it,” he says. “And the utilities have a good lobbying group.”Scavello says that he added provisions to his bill to ease utilities’ concerns and hopes those adjustments, along with the popularity of community solar, will finally get the bill passed. “I think utilities realize that continuing to fight this will be bad press for them,” he says. Scavello introduced another bill yet against last month to eliminate the cooperative solar restrictions in Pennsylvania. 

Cite as

Brianna Baker, "In Pennsylvania, a bipartisan coalition is pushing to free community solar from bureaucratic red tape", contributed by Morgan Sarao and Morgan Sarao, The Energy Rights Project, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 3 May 2021, accessed 13 May 2021.