Commentary

With wind and solar potential, Pennsylvania should lead toward renewable future | Opinion

Wind turbines rise up above farmland on the outskirts of the state capital on Nov. 19, 2013 near Middleton, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Flora Cardoni

From the heat dome in the Pacific Northwest to Hurricane Elsa raining down on the East Coast, the past few weeks have shown us that the climate crisis has moved from a distant threat to a present danger.

In the face of this destruction, many of us are wondering what we can do to tackle climate change and protect ourselves and future generations.

Last month, hundreds of Pennsylvanians answered this question by joining PennEnvironment for our annual Climate Action Citizen Lobby Day.

In nearly 100 virtual constituent lobby meetings with state legislators, concerned citizens spoke passionately about the importance of moving Pennsylvania off of dirty energy and adopting clean, renewable technologies to power our lives instead.

They shared their concerns for their most treasured natural places, the health of their communities, and the world they’ll leave for their children and grandchildren. >They also shared their hopes for a better future.

Clean, renewable, homegrown energy sources, like wind and solar power, offer a powerful set of tools for addressing the environmental challenges we face.

We know that simply opting for more clean and renewable energy will save millions of lives by reducing harmful air pollution, ensure cleaner water by avoiding fracking and oil spills, reduce climate pollution by thousands of millions of tons, and help make sure that future generations have a livable climate to call home.

Thankfully, Pennsylvania– like so many parts of the nation— has vast renewable resources at our fingertips. A new report from PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center found that Pennsylvania has enough solar potential alone to meet our 2020 electricity needs more than four times over. And all 50 states have sufficient solar or wind potential to fully meet our electricity needs today.

According to the report, Pennsylvania even has enough renewable potential to exceed our expected electricity needs in 2050, assuming we transition our transportation and buildings to run on electricity by that time.

The bottom line is that across the state and country, we already have more solar and wind potential than we need to power our lives without polluting.

In 2021, the technologies that can enable us to take advantage of our vast renewable resources are already here, and they are more affordable and efficient than ever.

From solar panels to wind turbines, we have seen drastic efficiency improvements and price decreases over the past decade. Beyond that, we have made tremendous advances in energy storage capacity and demand management. With these resources, we can deliver the clean power we need, when we need it.

Even better, we have the know-how to properly deploy these tools and transform our energy system from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy.

We must rapidly increase Pennsylvania’s amount of solar, wind, and geothermal capacity to power the electricity grid of the future. We also need to modernize Pennsylvania’s energy grid so that it’s capable of not only storing energy, but also transmitting clean power across longer distances and adapting to changes in weather conditions and demand.

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At the same time, we can do much more to reduce and manage our energy demand through energy efficiency efforts, electric system planning, and technologies that can help moderate and meet our power needs.

Finally, we will need to end today’s use of fossil fuels here in Pennsylvania and across the nation– including in the transportation, building heating and cooling, and industry sectors — and replace them with clean electricity.

To make this vision a reality, leaders at every level of government here in the Keystone State and across the U.S. must move the needle forward. It’s thrilling to see our federal leaders weighing the possibility of a nationwide clean energy standard along with programs like clean energy tax incentives that can help turn ambition into reality. But we don’t have to just sit around and wait for federal action — our leaders in Pennsylvania should lead the way and take advantage of the extensive clean, renewable energy opportunities that our state has to offer.

There are several actions that our elected officials in Harrisburg can take to lean into clean energy during the current legislative session in the state Capitol.

Our elected leaders have the opportunity to support bills in the state house and senate to improve appliance efficiency standards that would reduce air pollution and save consumers money, to renew Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) to ensure that we continue to source more of our energy from renewable resources, and to transition Pennsylvania to 100 percent renewable energy statewide by 2050.

Each of these actions would help deliver the cleaner, healthier future that our members, and everyone living in the Commonwealth, need and deserve.

Flora Cardoni is the Field Director for the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment. She writes from Philadelphia.

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