HMS Legal Blog

Community Solar - Inching Its Way to Pennsylvania

            There have been at least two bills recently introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly[1] introducing a new model for expanding the deployment of solar energy production in the Keystone State.  Community Solar is not a technology but rather a business model that allows “community solar organizations” (community-based organizations or for-profit entities), to develop “Community solar facilities” (solar installations no larger than 3 MW under most circumstances) that have “subscribers”  (individuals or businesses who pay a subscription fee to receive a specified percentage of the solar output).  The subscription is transferable and provides a credit on the local electric utility bill for their subscribed portion of the output.  Legislation is required because this arrangement is not contemplated by the current renewables law, the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (“AEPS Act”), 73 P.S. §§ 1648.1, et seq., or the Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act (“Choice Act”), 66 Pa. C.S. §§ 2801, et seq.,- creating new obligations for both electric distribution companies (“EDC”) and the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”).

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The Commonwealth Court Strikes a Delicate Balance Between Environmental Protection, Economic Development, and Deference to the Legislative Branch.

             In Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation v. Com., -- A.3d – (2015),[1] the Commonwealth Court issued a decision that balanced statutory and constitutional environmental protections against economic development and deference to collateral branches of government. Specifically, in a 6-1 decision, the Court held that legislation authorizing revenue contributions to the General Assembly’s annual appropriations fund (“General Fund”) from a fund financed by oil and natural gas leases on public lands (“Lease Fund”) executed between the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (“DCNR”)and various private parties does not violate Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the “Environmental Rights Amendment”). 

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