Pennsylvania lags in solar power market

Workers for Energy Independent Solutions install awning styled solar panels onto the Marquis Office Park building in Robinson on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. The building is in a undergoing a complete renovation.
Workers for Energy Independent Solutions install awning styled solar panels onto the Marquis Office Park building in Robinson on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. The building is in a undergoing a complete renovation.
Photo by Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
| Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

Tech companies that use large amounts of energy to run servers increasingly are looking at solar power — but they are doing more than following the sun.

They want to locate in states with policies that encourage solar use and development, said Jeff Benzak, spokesman for Environmental Entrepreneurs, an advocacy group in Washington. Pennsylvania is not on that list.

“It's a huge loss of opportunity when we see the rest of the nation growing with their solar market,” said Sharon Pillar, project director for Solarize Allegheny, a campaign funded by The Heinz Endowments to encourage adoption of solar energy.

Since 2010, the number of U.S. solar-related jobs increased 123 percent to 208,859, according to a report by The Solar Foundation in Washington. The federal extension of a 30 percent solar investment tax credit in December is expected to boost the number.

Pennsylvania's solar-related jobs fell 58 percent to 2,800 between 2010 and 2014, according to the foundation.

One reason for the decline is that Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard requires utilities to get only half of 1 percent of their electricity from solar sources by 2020, which is lower than other state targets, said Rob Altenburg, director of the PennFuture Energy Center.

It also allows utilities to buy renewable energy credits from generators outside the state. Other states limit or prohibit their utilities' out-of-state purchases, said Ron Celentano, president of the Pennsylvania Solar Energy Industries Association.

“We are subsidizing solar development in places like West Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois (and) Indiana,” said Joe Morinville, president of Energy Independent Solutions, a solar installation company in Westwood.

Gov. Tom Wolf's first budget proposal included a $225 million energy package that would have encouraged solar development through grants and rebates. After a six-month delay, lawmakers passed a partial budget without money to pay for solar development.

Wolf intends to revive the idea in his next budget proposal.

Tory N. Parrish is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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