Pennsylvania Risks Missing out on the Solar Boom Op-Ed Explainer

By Aaron Nichols

Exact Solar has constructed an installation at Camp Nock-A-Mixon.

Exact Solar has constructed an installation at Camp Nock-A-Mixon. (Credit: Exact Solar)

According to the Environment America Research and Policy Center, from 2013 to 2023, Pennsylvania ranked 49th for renewable energy growth as a whole, lagging behind only Alaska.1 The reason for this is simple — Pennsylvania’s outdated Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS).2

If Pennsylvania doesn’t update this outdated standard fast, the state risks being left in the dust as the country moves into a clean energy future.

Back in 2004, Pennsylvania was relatively forward-thinking when it came to renewable energy targets.3 In the early 2000s, there were a handful of states that passed portfolio standards mandating that a certain percentage of their power come from sources other than power plants. In most states, these are named Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS); the first RPS was passed in Iowa in 1983.4

Pay attention, because this is where it turns into a cleverly worded misdirection trick. By the time Pennsylvania finished passing its standard in 2004, it came out of the state legislature named the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS), not the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. This opened the door for many nonrenewable sources to be included in the portfolio.

There are currently 39 U.S. states and territories that have “renewable” energy standards and three U.S. states that have “alternative” energy standards (West Virginia repealed its).5 Pennsylvania’s AEPS divided energy sources into two tiers and mandated that each would make up a certain percentage of Pennsylvania’s total power generation by 2021.6

Tier I resources are:

  1. solar photovoltaics
  2. solar thermal electric
  3. wind and low-impact hydropower
  4. geothermal electric energy
  5. biologically derived methane gas
  6. fuel cells
  7. biomass
  8. electricity produced in-state from the byproducts of pulping and wood manufacturing industries
  9. coal-mine methane

Tier II resources are:

  1. electricity produced out-of-state from the byproducts of pulping and wood manufacturing industries
  2. waste coal
  3. distributed generation systems
  4. large-scale hydropower
  5. pumped-storage hydropower
  6. municipal solid waste
  7. integrated combined coal-gasification technology

The AEPS mandated that Tier I resources would make up 8% of the state’s total energy production by 2021 and Tier II would make up 10%. Of the 8% required to be Tier I, only 0.5% was required to be solar.

At the time, this was quite forward-thinking and certainly better than nothing. The AEPS mandated enough solar that Pennsylvania got a head start. Six years after it was passed, in 2010, Pennsylvania was one of the top five states for solar energy! Sadly, the state has since fallen far down the rankings.

Exact Solar has installed renewable energy on this Pennsylvania home.
Exact Solar has installed renewable energy on this Pennsylvania home. (Credit: Exact Solar)


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center found that Pennsylvania is the 4th worst state in the country for solar growth percentage.7

Since the AEPS was signed into law in 2004, Pennsylvania’s renewable energy target has not been updated. Compare this to neighboring New York, which implemented a Renewable Energy Standard in the same year to be 25% renewable by 2013 and met it. New York then shot for 30% renewable by 2015, met that target, and is now shooting for 70% of its portfolio to be renewable by 2030.8

Pennsylvania is a different beast. Two decades ago, it was mandated that 0.5% of Pennsylvania’s energy come from solar power. That number has not changed. According to a live data tracker published by the Solar Energy Industries Association, Pennsylvania has only 61,000 solar installations. In contrast, there are 189,000 in New York and 178,000 in New Jersey (as of November 2023).9

There are two easily defined reasons for this deficit:

1) Pennsylvania met its 8% alternative energy target in 2021, so power companies don’t have any incentive to expand their renewable energy efforts any further.

2) The ACP (Alternative Compliance Payment) in Pennsylvania is muddy and unclear. ACPs are penalties that are put in place by state governments to penalize companies that do not meet renewable targets. In Pennsylvania, power companies do not have a clearly defined consequence for not meeting their renewable energy goals.

Pennsylvania, as the second-to-last-ranking state in terms of renewable energy development, desperately needs to update the AEPS. Taking action will protect and create energy jobs, address climate change, and ensure reliable access to power for all Pennsylvanians. There are a few pieces of pending legislation that could tip the scale, but regardless of what passes, something needs to be done.

In March, Governor Josh Shapiro (D-PA) proposed his PRESS and PACER plans, which if passed, would bump the renewable energy requirement up to 35%. But the fight to update the AEPS has been going on since long before March.

Last year, several state representatives, including Carolyn Comitta (D-PA)10 and Steve Santarsiero (D-PA),11 introduced Senate Bill 230 and House Bill 1467. The easy way to remember these bills is the slogan “30 by 30.” They would update the amount of renewable energy that power companies operating in Pennsylvania must use to 30% by 2030.

Within this 30% requirement, 14% would be dedicated to solar energy — up from 0.5% (a 2,800% increase). The bill pushes for the full development of the Pennsylvania solar industry, recognizing its pivotal role in achieving a greener, more sustainable future.

Comitta, the minority chair of the Pennsylvania Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee,12 recently wrote an op-ed in the Delco Times on the need to update the AEPS, as well as how we can address this issue.13

“Renewables are on the rise nationwide — on the coasts and in the heartland, in red states and blue — because they make sense,” Comitta wrote. “Compared to fossil fuel-generated power, renewables are better for our health, better for our environment, and in the long run (sometimes even the short term too), better for our bank accounts.”

“At our current rate, Pennsylvania will continue to fall far behind a nation that’s becoming more and more powered by clean energy every day,” Comitta said. “This means that we will miss out on critical opportunities to reduce the state’s climate and air pollution, as well as promising economic and job opportunities in the clean energy sector.”

The renewable energy commitments of neighboring states have been higher compared tothose of Pennsylvania.
The renewable energy commitments of neighboring states have been higher compared to those of Pennsylvania. (Credit: Exact Solar)


Renewables are the future of energy. They now make up 17% of our total electricity in the United States. Pennsylvania, in the last decade, only brought online enough renewable energy to power 2% of the state’s homes and only purchased 3% renewable energy from out of state.

The AEPS was progressive for its time. Pennsylvania was one of the first states in the union to mandate that any percentage of total power must come from renewable sources. But the fact remains — “alternative” is not “renewable.” It’s time for the people of Pennsylvania to stand up to a stagnant power industry and demand to walk hand in hand into the future of energy with the rest of the country.



About the Author

Aaron Nichols is a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners-certified climate tech copywriter (and proud American Solar Energy Society member) based in Colorado. He’s worked in solar sales, installation and marketing. He currently writes for Exact Solar in Newtown, Pennsylvania, working to create the best free, honest source of residential solar information for homeowners on the internet.

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