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Pressed by green activists, Peco launches solar 'collaborative'

Under pressure from green activists to support more renewable energy, Peco Energy Co. announced Friday that it will create a "stakeholder collaborative" to "advance local solar energy."

Under pressure from green activists to support more renewable energy, Peco Energy Co. announced Friday that it will create a "stakeholder collaborative" to "advance local solar energy."

The Philadelphia utility has been the target of protests organized by the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) to support solar projects in impoverished neighborhoods.

Peco said it has used the collaborative process to devise pilot programs to advance wind energy, new pricing options, and renewable-energy choices for customers.

"We have a proven track record of environmental leadership," Craig Adams, Peco's president and chief executive, said in a statement. "We also have a very successful history of working with collaboratives like this to provide advanced energy services, choices, and programs for our customers."

The company, which timed its announcement to Earth Day, said it intended to invite solar supporters, competitive suppliers, consumer advocates, and representatives of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to discussions this summer about possible solar initiatives.

"The goal is to foster the discussion and have as many voices and interested parties participate as possible," said Cathy Engel Menendez, Peco's spokeswoman. She said EQAT representatives would be invited.

In September, the activists launched protests at Peco's Market Street headquarters, demanding that the utility buy some solar power from community-based North Philadelphia projects.

EQAT gave Peco a May 2 deadline to respond. Spokesman Greg Holt had promised that the group would return May 10 blowing whistles "if the company isn't moving forward."

The utility said EQAT's demand put it in an impossible position because it is required to buy power through blind auctions at the lowest price.

Peco and other utilities are required to buy 5.5 percent of their power from renewable sources, including 0.25 percent from solar generators. On June 1, the mandated solar percentage will increase to 0.2933 percent.

The way it buys power for default-service customers who do not shop for competitive suppliers is controlled by a PUC-monitored process, Peco says.

The suppliers for the six months beginning June 1 were determined in an auction in March. The auction rules, which would need to be revised to allow Peco to source power from a specific type of solar supplier, were set last year in a PUC-approved process. Procurement rules for 2017 to 2019 are undergoing PUC review.

Eileen Flanagan, head of EQAT, said its pressure caused Peco officials "to at least consider increasing their commitment to solar." She said Peco still lagged other utilities nationwide.

"We do not consider them leaders on this issue, but plan to keep up the pressure until we see true leadership through a massive shift to both solar and job creation, starting in North Philadelphia," she said in an email.

amaykuth@phillynews.com

215-854-2947 @maykuth

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