The Lead

Bipartisan bills in state House and Senate increase access to solar energy

By: - October 22, 2019 1:51 pm

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, speaks on behalf of his proposal encouraging increased use of solar energy, while, Rep. Lori Mizgorski, R-Allegheny (far right), sponsor of a similar proposal in the House, looks on. The lawmakers held a news conference to discuss their plans on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Want to go solar, but can’t afford to put solar panels on your house? There’s now a plan for that.

Legislation now before the state House and Senate would allow Pennsylvania utility customers to heat and light their homes with 100 percent solar energy from their local power company, instead of the usual grid mix, backers said during a Capitol news conference Tuesday.

The bills sponsored by two Allegheny County lawmakers, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, a Democrat, and Rep. Lori A. Mizgorski, a Republican, would also open the door to apartment dwellers, who have no place to put solar panels, as well as to low-income Pennsylvanians, who would be guaranteed up to 15 percent participation in the program, which would be subject to regulation by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The energy would be provided off-site, sparing the expense of solar panels.

“People want to reduce their carbon footprint and become more energy efficient,” Costa said Tuesday. ” … the local solar program would pay for itself without [the state] subsidizing it.”

Calling solar energy “the most abundant” renewable energy source, Mizgorski argued that the bills will “eliminate barriers” to people purchasing solar energy to power their homes. It would remain affordable because the legislation imposes long-term rates on providers.

Steve Malnight, the president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Duquesne Light Company, who also attended Tuesday’s event, said he hopes the bill opens the door to increased use of solar energy.

But the Costa/Mizgorski bill isn’t the only bill making the rounds. On Tuesday, during an appearance before the Senate Majority Policy Committee, an advocate from the Cumberland County-based Conservative Energy Forum testified on behalf of community solar legislation sponsored by Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe.

Scavello’s bill would allow Pennsylvanians to “subscribe to a portion of an offsite solar project and receive credit on their electricity bill for the power produced, just as if the panels were on their roof,” Scavello wrote in a Jan. 14 memo seeking support for his proposal. It also would “[give] citizens and businesses the choice to participate. There is no mandate for participation or request for state funding.”

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.