Report finds Pennsylvania a rising U.S. leader in clean energy

Pennsylvania added nearly 1.4 gigawatts of clean energy capacity and attracted $3.5 billion in private investment between 2009 and 2013, helping to make the Keystone state a “rising leader” in renewable energy investment, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Meanwhile, new clean energy projects planned in Pennsylvania over the next decade are expected to add 5 gigawatts of capacity and generate $17.7 billion in investment, according to the report, which is part of an analysis by the Pew Trusts’ Clean Energy Initiative.

“That’s a pretty impressive economic opportunity,” said Jessica Lubetsky, officer of clean energy initiative for the Philadelphia-based nonprofit that analyzes policy and civic issues.

Of alternative energy sources, Pennsylvania’s largest sources of renewable energy are wind and hydropower. However, two growing energy sectors are solar, which would create energy, and industrial energy efficiency, which would save energy, the Pew Trusts report said.

Compared to other states, Pennsylvania ranked 11th in solar capacity at 212 megawatts. The state ranked sixth nationally in industrial energy efficiency capacity — such as combined heat and power, which produces heat and power from a single fuel source, and waste heat to power, which uses waste heat from industrial processes to generate electricity.

In terms of private investment in clean energy, the state ranked sixth, attracting $841 million in 2013. Over a five-year period, private investment totaled $3.5 billion, according to the report.

“Pennsylvania has leveraged its history of manufacturing to grow its clean energy sector,” Ms. Lubetsky said.

The report cited the Consol Energy Center as the first National Hockey League arena to secure a Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system in 2010. Consol installed energy-efficient lighting and high-efficiency ventilation and air conditioning to cut energy use and save up to $260,000 annually.

Historically, Pennsylvania has relied on fossil fuels and nuclear for electricity generation. As of August, the lion’s share came from nuclear at 7,169 gigawatts per hour (GWh). That’s followed by coal at 6,132 GWh and natural gas generation at 5,388 GWh. Hydropower generates a smaller share of about 158 GWh and other renewables provide 382 GWh, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

One means to bolster the sector has been the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, which call for 18 percent of the state’s electricity to come from advanced energy sources by 2021 — that includes 8 percent from renewable power and 10 percent from other technology, including efficiency and innovations in fossil energy.

In addition, public-private partnerships, property tax incentives, state grants and loans and net metering have promoted development.

Still, the sector faces challenges. For instance, Pennsylvania has allowed imports of electricity from out-of-state solar projects to qualify for its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards — “effectively outsourcing some of the economic benefits the standards were designed to generate in-state,” the report states.

That means that Pennsylvania is affected by policy decisions in other states. This year, Ohio imposed a two-year freeze on its own renewable portfolio standard.

In addition, the state Public Utility Commission is considering a proposal that would change who can sell alternative energy to the grid through net metering. Net metering allows customers to use electricity produced by their own installations to offset their own demand, and then sell the excess back to their utility company.

Public comments on the proposal closed Sept. 3. The agency is still reviewing those, according to a PUC spokeswoman. The agency expects to have a final rulemaking order next year.

Pew Trusts said that if the changes are adopted, it could stunt deployment of new power generation installations.

“Pew’s perspective on policy is that policy matters,” Ms. Lubetsky said. “States and countries with good clean energy policies have become leaders.

“Policy is a great way to get into the game and take advantage of the environmental and economic opportunities that clean energy supplies. They may not need to go on forever, but they need to be in place long enough to help competition.”

Stephanie Ritenbaugh: or 412-263-4910.

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