Senate bill proposes expansion of Pennsylvania’s renewable energy targets

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A bill pending in the state Senate proposes expanding Pennsylvania’s renewable energy targets to keep it a competitive place for investors as surrounding states race toward lowered carbon footprints.

The bipartisan measure came from two senators from different parties on different sides of the state – Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, and Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia – who say building out Pennsylvania’s clean energy portfolio will boost the economy, create jobs and address climate change.

“Renewable energy creates jobs, saves farmers, and can help us to save the planet,” Haywood said. “We believe strongly that this proposal could be one of the largest economic development and job stimulus bills in decades.”

The bill would increase the Tier 1 goal in Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard from 8% to 18% by 2026. The AEPS, first established in 2004, requires electricity suppliers to procure a certain percentage of their power from alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind farms. The legislation dialed up the mandate for Tier 1 resources from 1.5% in its first year to 8% in its 15th year.

But, in the decade and a half since, alternative energy goals in surrounding states have jumped to 50% by 2030 and Virginia adopted a plan to use 100% clean energy by 2050.

Pennsylvania’s AEPS is set to expire in May and with it, any investor interest, the senators said. Expanding the targets will support more projects and stimulate the economy – something Pennsylvania needs post-pandemic, Laughlin said.

“These efforts will attract millions of dollars of private investment, grow tens of thousands of jobs, create tax revenue for communities, diversify our energy mix, and present a solution that may save some of our farms without the use of state revenues,” he said.

The bill comes on the heels of Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement that half of the state government’s electricity will come from solar energy as of 2023. The project, the largest solar commitment from any governmental agency in the country, will create 400 jobs and lower carbon dioxide emissions by 157,800 metric tons – the equivalent of taking 34,000 cars off the road.

At the time, environmental groups said the state should focus next on updating its AEPS to encourage similar projects.

But Laughlin’s support marks the first Republican this session to signal a willingness to do so. It’s the third bipartisan measure he’s introduced in as many months that tackle issues his party has been reluctant to touch – including legalizing recreational cannabis and raising the minimum wage.

It’s unclear where Republican leadership stands on the issue, though Pennsylvania’s clean energy transition has moved slower than other neighboring states over fears of limiting its robust natural gas industry.

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