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Pennsylvania Introduces Legislation Setting Aggressive Renewable Energy Goals

With Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly in favor of legislation to address climate change (83% according to an August 2020 Global Strategy Group survey) recently introduced legislation could jumpstart Pennsylvania’s transition to a renewable energy future.  Pennsylvania will have two self-imposed goals for its energy future: (1) by 2035 all electricity will be produced from renewable energy sources, and (2) by 2050 all energy consumed in the commonwealth will be from renewable sources.

Two identical bills were introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate and House on September 22, 2021, to achieve these goals.  First,  SB872, was introduced by Senator Cappelletti (D) and currently has an additional 10 Democratic senators sponsoring it; and second, HB100, was introduced by Representative Rabb (D) and has an additional 52 Democratic representatives and one Republican representative sponsoring it.  The bills would add a new Chapter 51, titled “Transition to Renewable Energy” to Title 27 (Environmental Resources) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.

While this legislation has some administrative fog – establishing a task force and committees to perform studies and data collection — it also has some muscle.  This muscle sets interim limits on energy production from non-renewable sources – no more than 50% by 2030 and no more than 20% by 2040.  Pennsylvania’s Environmental Protection agency (DEP) is also required to establish interim limits on non-renewable energy use in sectors and subsectors of the economy with the goal of reaching 100% renewables use by 2050.  Most importantly, these caps are binding and are “legally enforceable by a resident of this Commonwealth.”

The legislation sets priorities for state agencies during the proposed transition to renewables, including prioritizing sources of renewable energy from within Pennsylvania or Mid-Atlantic region and requiring that sources of renewable energy represent additional renewable generation capacity added to the grid. The bills prioritize local and community ownership of renewable energy generation, particularly those that benefit low-income communities. This last priority would empower Community Solar and other projects using similar models, while prioritizing newly interconnected resources promotes new investment using newer technology. The legislation also prioritizes the use of energy efficiency measures to reduce total energy consumption.

In addition to setting goals and priorities, the legislation would require all Executive Agencies to review statutes, regulations, and programs under their jurisdictions to determine how best to modify legal requirements in order to adapt and accelerate Pennsylvania’s renewable energy future.  To ensure that the renewable energy goals remain on target through different administrations, the bills also create a Renewable Energy Transition Task Force tasked with reviewing all statutes and regulations and their impact on production and procurement of energy in the commonwealth –a huge undertaking.  The Task Force is “tasked” with deciding the path  the commonwealth will take in reaching the 100 % renewable energy goal.  The bills also ensure adequate public participation in the process.

By identifying employment opportunities to be had in a renewable energy environment, and by recommending policies to promote growth in those sectors, these bills provide more than enforceable goals for renewable energy production and use, they create a renewable energy economy.  The policies will likely favor educational and employment opportunities for veterans and those whose jobs in the fossil fuel economy will be displaced.

At this point it is difficult to predict how or if either of these bills might move through the respective houses of the General Assembly.  The goals they set out are ambitious but are not out of line with those of other states, Pennsylvania voters, or the Biden administration.  The fundamental question is whether such legislation has any chance in an economy and political landscape that has been dominated by fossil fuel production for a very long time.

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