Success of Pa. Solar Borders Law Could Hinge on Disputed Interpretation

By Legere, Laura | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 29, 2017 | Go to article overview

Success of Pa. Solar Borders Law Could Hinge on Disputed Interpretation


Legere, Laura, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


A new law designed to stop a flood of out-of-state solar power projects from overwhelming Pennsylvania renewable energy markets was supposed to boost construction of new solar facilities within the commonwealth.

But public utility regulators, charged with implementing the law, have proposed two competing paths for how to interpret it, one of which would allow for so much grandfathering of out-of-state projects that it would make the law useless, solar advocates and the legislation's prime sponsor say.

At least two Pennsylvania Public Utility commissioners share their concerns and are offering an alternative interpretation that they think better fits the purpose of the law. It would effectively close the state's borders to outside solar credits as of Oct. 30, the day Gov. Tom Wolf signed the law, known as Act 40.

The official tentative implementation order that the five-member commission agreed to publish for comment last week reflects "a strict textual review" of the law's language by the PUC's legal bureau, Commissioner Gladys Brown said at the Dec. 21 meeting.

But "grandfathering all out-of-state solar facilities," as the implementation order proposes, "may result in, at best, a negligible impact on in-state solar development," she said, reading from a statement co-signed by Commissioner Andrew Place.

"Such an outcome would fail to achieve the potential intentions of the General Assembly to foster economic development in the state, to support environmental stewardship and to instill electric reliability."

Pennsylvania's 2004 Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards law requires power companies to get a portion of the energy they sell from solar sources, but it previously allowed projects in any state within the regional 13-state electrical grid to participate in its solar credit market.

That led out-of-state solar facilities - especially those built in places without local markets for their credits - to register far more credits in Pennsylvania than were needed to satisfy the power companies' demand. The value of the credits tanked, from $300 to about $4, eliminating a valuable incentive for building solar here.

Solar energy systems earn a credit for every megawatt-hour of power they generate. A typical residential solar array would generate six to nine credits a year.

The disagreement over which systems should remain eligible comes down to two ambiguous provisions in the law relating to existing registrations and contracts. …

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