At the same time Gov. Rendell was celebrating Pennsylvania's success in luring a Greek solar-cell manufacturer to the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, proposed legislation he calls critical to helping the state become a major alternative-energy player was languishing.
Advocates had hoped House Bill 80 - which would significantly boost Pennsylvania's clean-energy standards and its commitment to alternative energy - would be passed by year's end.
But those hopes faded last week, when the legislature exhausted the rest of its 2009 working calendar mired in debate over whether to allow poker, roulette, and other games at the state's casinos.
Though unwilling to criticize the attention spent on the still-unresolved table-games legislation, John Hanger, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, suggested the state was doing a bit of gambling of its own by failing to adopt the clean-energy bill.
"We're not going to maintain a leadership position in [green] jobs and investment if we don't pass House Bill 80," Hanger said in an interview yesterday. "We'll lose future jobs, and we could put at risk what we've already achieved. Investors are looking at Pennsylvania and other states and nations and deciding every month where they're going to put money."
Hanger vowed: "We are going to work this bill hard starting in January."
Opponents are promising an equally determined pushback unless their concerns are met. Among them is the Pennsylvania Coal Association, which represents the bituminous-coal industry, responsible for 85 percent of the 68 million tons of coal produced in the state last year, according to president George Ellis.
His group objects to the core of the clean-energy bill: a requirement that the amount of electricity sold from so-called Tier 1 clean-energy sources, such as solar and wind, increase from the 8 percent currently mandated by law to 15 percent by 2024.
Initially, the proposal called for 20 percent, but that met resistance from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The union feared that an increase in electricity generated from alternative-energy sources would mean a loss of jobs for its members in the coal and nuclear industries, said State Rep. Greg Vitale (D., Delaware), one of House Bill 80's prime sponsors.
Now, it's the coal industry fearing the loss of market share. Ellis said his group would not support any increase in alternative-energy portfolio standards until the state Public Utility Commission has had a chance to evaluate what effect elimination of state-mandated rate caps will have. In the Philadelphia region, those rate restrictions end at the close of 2010.
"We're supposed to be in a competitive energy market," Ellis said. "Customer choice is supposed to drive that market."
Operators of nuclear-power plants also contend that House Bill 80 would put them at a competitive disadvantage. They are pushing an amendment that would allow ratepayer subsidies to help offset the cost of upgrading nuclear plants to expand their capacity and efficiency.
"If nuclear isn't included, this is just a bad bill, and we would prefer no legislation at all," said Joe Dominguez, senior vice president of government affairs and general counsel at Exelon Generation.
Even with changes to the original bill to address concerns of the IBEW, solar-panel installers, and environmental groups, Vitale said, "at least 15 more votes" are needed to get the measure through the House.
To help the effort, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, or PennFuture, the advocacy group Hanger used to head, has scheduled six "Clean Energy" breakfasts next month throughout Pennsylvania to promote passage of the bill and its companion, Senate Bill 92.
Though "cautiously optimistic" about passage, Jan Jarrett, PennFuture's president and chief executive officer, warned the process could still take considerable time.
After all, when the House and Senate return to work on Jan. 5, they are expected to take up the table-games bill - again.