September 14, 2020

Why Pa. should become a ‘community solar’ state

Central Penn Business Journal

By Steve Raeder, Contributing Writer

Pennsylvania’s legislators have been hard at work in recent weeks as they grapple with challenges facing the commonwealth as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Just about every industry is struggling, but community solar could bring a bright spot of economic opportunity to Pennsylvania if HB 531 and SB 705 were to pass the General Assembly.

Enabling community solar programs would inject billions of dollars in economic investment, generate local tax revenue and jobs and create an income stream for hard-hit farmers. There has never been a more important time to seize upon the benefits of community solar for Pennsylvania than right now.

Community solar arrangements allow customers to buy solar bill credits from a remotely sited solar installation to reduce their monthly utility costs. Not everyone can put solar panels on their own property, especially if they are renters. The scale of community solar allows hundreds of customers to purchase bill credits from a single project, increasing access to clean, renewable energy as well as improving the energy choices available to consumers. There is no cost to taxpayers or to local governments. Rather, community solar brings income to local communities as well as energy savings.

Summit Ridge Energy (SRE) is a member of the Coalition for Community Solar Access and a group of 30 companies working to create a strong community solar market in the commonwealth that will truly boost the broader economy. Our company is one of the largest developers of community solar projects in the nation and we are committed to this model because of its proven success in generating value for consumers, landowners and local governments. Community solar is already allowed in 20 states, and Pennsylvania could be next to join those ranks.

In Illinois, where community solar was recently enacted, SRE’s fleet of 40 community solar systems is expected to reduce electricity bills for approximately 15,000 residential customers. To build and service these assets will require the skill of some 1,200 tradesmen, hundreds of whom have already been engaged. When construction activities have been completed, dozens of these jobs will transition into long term contracts to operate and maintain each system. And over the next 20 years, each system will generate $7.4 million in aggregate tax revenue across 20

Illinois counties in addition to $15.8 million in rental income for the farmers we’ve leased land from.

Farmers are the perfect partners to host community solar projects. They have the fields and open spaces to accommodate panels that most property owners do not have. Thousands of farmers already use solar energy on their farms to reduce their own energy costs and increase their energy independence and resilience. In Pennsylvania, SRE has or will have leases with farmers in Dauphin, Lancaster, Adams and Cumberland counties just waiting to go live.

Farmers can benefit from the steady and predictable stream of revenue that leasing their land to community solar projects can provide. As restaurants and institutional purchasers of milk, produce and meat have scaled back or totally eliminated orders, farmers need and deserve opportunities that can help them generate lost income. Community solar can do that in Pennsylvania, very quickly, and for the long term, if HB 531 and SB 705 are passed.

Community solar offers tangible, near term benefits in the form of tax revenue for local communities, rental income for local farmers, savings on electricity for local residents and jobs for local trades. An analysis by Vote Solar using National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) modeling found that passing community solar legislation in Pennsylvania would generate $2.08 billion in local economic benefits along with $210 million in local property tax revenues and create a 75% increase in solar jobs within the commonwealth. Now is the time to support industries like solar that can bring jobs back to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania legislators on both sides of the aisle have already recognized that community solar would be positive for the commonwealth, having introduced HB 531 and SB 705 earlier this year, before the effects of the pandemic had ever been felt. Their leadership to pass the bills now can make these economic benefits a reality for thousands of Pennsylvanians.

Steve Raeder is CEO of Summit Ridge Energy, a leading U.S. developer and financier of community solar assets.

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