Proposed PA Bill Supports Solar Energy While Threatening Water Quality

Solar panels in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy:

In the Pennsylvanian Congress, an administrative bill is making its way through various iterations to become law and it has some questioning the particulars as a catch-22: solar energy for quality water.

The bill, whose prime sponsor is Republican Senator Thomas McGarrigle, presents a smorgasbord of changes to various departments and administration officers.  But of the recent changes appears to both help and hurt the environment. While the bill may help solar energy by changing trade laws in Pennsylvania, it harms the environment by allowing more toxins into water supplies.

The proposed changes are to the  2004  law entitled the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act which pushed energy supplying companies to meet certain renewable energy requirements over the course of 15-years. As of now, when companies generate electricity from solar power, they receive Solar Renewable Energy Certificates or SREC. Each SREC represents one megawatt hour of electric energy generated from solar power. In Pennsylvania and nine other states, there is a market for these certificates. In order to meet solar energy generation requirements, electrical utility companies must generate a certain amount of their energy through renewable sources. In Pennsylvania, by 2020, 18 percent of the energy produced must come from renewable sources, with 0.5 percent of that coming from solar power.

The new amendment defines how electric companies are able to use solar energy they acquire. Specifically, Pennsylvania power companies must buy from in-state producers. There are already other states that do not allow Pennsylvanian producers of solar power to sell into their states, but other states can sell into Pennsylvania.

Currently, the electric companies that get SRECs use them to provide solar energy to the other states in the system. States include: New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Ohio, Delaware, North Carolina, California, Illinois and the District of Columbia are all part of the SREC market. Other states not in the SREC market, like Michigan, Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, get some of their energy from states in the market.

If a company is unable to generate the required solar energy through their own means, they must purchase SRECs. Failing to do so results in the company facing fines in the form of Solar Alternative Compliance Payment. Companies who don’t produce any or enough renewable energy can satisfy the requirement vicariously through another company which produces more renewable energy than the law required it to. A private party such as a homeowner who is not required to produce any renewable energy whatsoever can also satisfy the energy requirement.

John O’Brien, who helped with the changes to the bill, is the budget communications director for Pennsylvania State Representative Stanley Saylor. O’Brien said the bill will increase demand for solar power and make residents more likely to use solar for their energy needs.

Currently in Pennsylvania we have the Energy Portfolio Standards where energy companies have to get a certain amount of their energy from solar or renewable sources. They do this by households, farms, businesses who install solar panels and the excess energy they create they sell back onto the grid. A person in Maryland who produces excess power, can sell into Pennsylvania which would drive the price down. We however, Pennsylvania, cannot sell into any of our surrounding states. So this would simply give us parity with out other states saying that the companies have to buy from Pennsylvania producers.

According to O’Brien, the reason that Pennsylvania is not allowed to sell solar power into other states is because of the laws that exist in those states.
The big thing is parity with other states. We feel that Maryland or Ohio producers of solar energy shouldn’t necessarily be allowed to sell in Pennsylvania when Pennsylvanians aren’t allowed to sell into Maryland or Ohio. The other states bar us from doing that [selling solar power], so in the Pennsylvania legislature, we don’t have any control over that. I’m sure we would be very supportive of that, but that’s up to the other state legislatures. We can’t control that so we are doing what we can control.
O’Brien said this amendment was added to so that more Pennsylvania residents would want to install solar panels.

We are essentially encouraging Pennsylvania families to invest in solar power. We want to make sure we have people who are taking that step to lower emissions, being able to get the return on investments from installing these solar panels.

The adage of solar energy could not distract activists and the like from noticing that bill allows for  environmental degradation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held last month concluded that actions should be taken to protect the environment. Justice Christine Donohue said in the court’s opinion:
The Commonwealth must act affirmatively via legislative action to protect the environment.
Instead of following Donohue’s  advice, environmentally harmful language has been included in SB 446.
Section six, page 57, requires the Environmental Quality Board to propose limits on how much the chemical manganese can be in areas immediately upstream of potable water supplies or in known private water supplies.  This provision would mean that potentially hundreds of miles of Pennsylvania waterways—including those actively used for irrigation, fishing, swimming, and other recreation—could have unsafe levels of the toxic metal.
In Section eight, on page 58, water treatment facilities are allowed to take waste from the natural gas industry to continue operating under long-expired National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permits through the end of 2019.
O’Brien said the reason for the initiative in 2004 was to have those that invested in solar a way get a return on investment. The introduced amendments are to ensure are a continuation of that pursuit.
“It’s more of the individual, households, farms, making sure that regular citizens that make the investment in solar … are able to recoup what they invested,” said O’Brien.


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