The solar-energy industry is growing rapidly and creating thousands of jobs nationwide. But Pennsylvania is falling farther behind in the race for these green jobs. When it comes to producing clean electricity from the sun, other states are leaping ahead of the commonwealth.
Pennsylvania requires that only 0.5 percent of the electricity we use will come from the sun as of 2021. By comparison, New Jersey will require that 4 percent of its electricity come from solar generation by 2021, Delaware has set a target of 3.5 percent by 2025, and Maryland's standard is 2 percent by 2022. Even Illinois, a ranking coal producer, has a goal of 1.5 percent by 2025.
What does that mean for the Keystone State? It means we are less likely to attract a major solar-related economic-development project - or to keep the more than 600 solar businesses we already have, which offer jobs in research, manufacturing, installation, and maintenance.
If we want to keep those businesses and the jobs they support, we must create a business environment that helps them expand and attracts companies that are looking to relocate.
That's why we must increase solar energy's share in the state's alternative-energy portfolio standards. Passed by the legislature in 2004, the standards jump-started a green revolution that has made Pennsylvania one of the leading states in renewable-energy development. Twenty-five thousand Pennsylvanians are working in renewable-energy jobs, while the state's consumers and businesses have invested at least $600 million in solar-energy projects.
House Bill 2405 would wisely increase Pennsylvania's solar requirement to 3 percent, but support for the bill has been hard to come by in the legislature. Even so, a more modest increase would still be worthwhile. A 1.5 percent target, for example, would triple our existing requirement and make Pennsylvania more competitive in the sector.
There are billions of dollars being invested in the solar-energy industry. Despite the global recession, the American solar industry grew substantially in 2009, with revenues increasing by 36 percent and generating capacity by 37 percent over the previous year. What's more, the investment community is bullish when it comes to solar; venture capitalists, sensing its incredible growth potential, invested $1.4 billion in the industry last year.
Besides putting Pennsylvania in a position to capitalize on this growth, increasing the state's solar-energy requirement would help consumers control their electricity bills. The cost of solar energy has dropped by half from the levels of just a few years ago. In fact, solar energy now costs less than electricity from new nuclear power plants, according to a recent Duke University study.
When the owner of a business or home installs a solar system, he or she can count on benefiting from the power it provides at a stable price over the lifetime of the panels, or up to 25 years. That lessens the volatility of energy prices and lowers electricity costs, offsetting the costs of solar panels.
Next month, when the legislature returns to Harrisburg, we will have a final opportunity this year to ensure a robust market for solar-energy development in Pennsylvania. We may not be able to achieve a 3 percent requirement, but there is widespread support for a 1.5 percent target. Even that would go a long way toward making Pennsylvania more competitive with its neighbors, attracting companies and jobs rather than losing them to states where the sun shines brighter.