By David E. Hess | PA Environment Digest Blog | September 19, 2022
With solar energy policy on the agenda of the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee on September 20, dozens of landowners from across Pennsylvania sent letters in support of bills Senate Bill 472 (Scavello-R-Monroe) [in the Committee] and House Bill 1555 (Kaufer-R-Luzerne).
The letters urged legislators to pass legislation and create a market for community solar in the Commonwealth to help lower energy bills and create income opportunities for farmers.
Community solar projects are small solar installations typically located on underutilized farmland, large rooftops or former industrial sites.
The property owner can earn income by leasing space for solar panels, and community members can subscribe to the project, earning savings on their electricity bill each month.
By providing options for those who cannot afford or access rooftop solar on their homes, community solar expands access to solar-generated power for all customers, including renters, residents of multi-unit buildings, homeowners with roof shading issues and low-to-moderate-income customers.
“My family has owned our land for over 60 years, and it was once a thriving dairy farm,” said Debra McKenzie, a landowner in Somerset County. “A community solar market gives us new hope in continued ownership of my family’s land and provides a path for us to pass it on to future generations.”
More than 20 states have already developed programs to allow their residents access to the economic and environmental benefits that community solar delivers.
According to Penn State, the construction of community solar projects in Pennsylvania would give an immediate $1.8 billion dollar boost to the state’s economy.
A large part of this impact would come in the form of jobs for in-state workers.
The construction and building trades would be critical to bringing these projects online, and it is estimated that establishing a community solar market in Pennsylvania would create 12,000 family sustaining jobs with more than $793 million in wages paid to laborers.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this legislation will be farmers, who will be able to supplement their income by leasing small plots of unused or underperforming land for community solar generation arrays, allowing them to ensure the financial viability of their farms.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, recognizing the unique opportunity for PA farmers to diversify their revenue flows, is backing this important legislation.
Kyle Kerber, a farmer in Wayne County, explained, “My dad is a ‘retired’ dairy farmer. He ‘retired’ at the age of 68 because his body could not handle the physical activity that dairy farming requires. I had to have an off-the-farm job because the money isn’t there in the dairy industry to support two families. It hardly supports one family. We feel comfortable leasing our land for a community solar project. It may not be milking cows, but it is a way to keep the farm and give my father the retirement he deserves.”
Jared Kontaxes and his wife own 24 acres of farmland in Westmoreland County that for years has been used for growing corn and soybeans. But due to soil conditions and the cost of farming, those crops have provided “little benefit” to his family or the surrounding community, he said.
“I know much greater benefit would be possible with community solar,” Kontaxes said. “The energy produced would offer our area access to additional clean energy while providing our family with extra income. In addition to the benefits to our community, to the land and to our family, community solar would help achieve bipartisan goals for energy independence.”
The concept of creating a community solar market in Pennsylvania is extremely popular, with 77 percent of Pennsylvanians supportive of the proposal.
The polling also shows that Pennsylvanians want more choice in where they get their electricity.
Community solar would provide Pennsylvania consumers with an additional option for their electric providers, and enable thousands to reap the economic benefits of solar power.
“This legislation has strong support from landowners and farmers, labor groups, business owners and energy consumers,” said Matt Hargarten, Vice President of Campaigns for Coalition for Community Solar Access. “Pennsylvania can’t afford to wait any longer to deliver the benefits of community solar to their constituents. The time to act is now, and we urge the Senate Consumer Protections Committee to move swiftly to create a market in Pennsylvania for community solar power.”
To learn more, visit the Coalition for Community Solar Access website.
— TribLive Guest Essay: Real Community Solar Legislation Could Ease Economic Pressures – David McKenzie, Operating Engineers Local 66