Solar makes sense

May 31, 2011

As reported in Philadelphia Inquire May 30, 2011
With Pennsylvania
boasting the nation’s second largest number of solar-industry jobs, state
officials would be foolish to let the sun set on such a nascent but promising
industry. But that could happen due to a temporary mismatch between solar-energy
financing and market demand.

The construction of more than 4,000 solar projects has been a roaring
success, responsible for generating several thousand jobs at 600 solar
businesses. Growing that industry from scratch, with state and federal aid, also
boosted the use of nonpolluting and renewable energy. That will be particularly
helpful in meeting summer’s peak demand.

Yet, the boom in solar projects has outpaced the amount of solar energy
utilities are required to buy under the state’s alternative-energy rules. That
has depressed the value of solar-energy credits needed to provide a return on
photovoltaic solar systems, which have a steep, up-front price tag.

The best way for state officials to spur solar to new heights would be to
boost the modest solar-energy standard – now far lower than neighboring states,
at only 0.5 percent – by 2021. But last year, that idea ran into strong
opposition from Exelon and other utilities, coal producers, and business groups
– and a certain Republican candidate for governor.

Fortunately, a fellow Republican, State Rep. Chris Ross from Chester County,
unveiled a legislative proposal Tuesday that should be more to Gov. Corbett’s
liking. Ross would accelerate the amount of solar energy utilities are required
to purchase for the next few years, but leave the overall standard at just 0.5
percent. He would also follow other states by barring out-of-state solar
producers contributing to the solar glut in Pennsylvania.

The Ross proposal amounts to a tweak, but one that could be critical to
maintaining the state’s foothold in solar energy. Corbett and Republican
legislative leaders could fall back on tea-party ideological antagonism toward
so-called government mandates – or they could prove themselves progressive
enough to embrace a modest plan that makes sense for the state’s 21st-century
economy.

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Posted on Sat, Oct. 10, 2009

 

By Diane Mastrull

Inquirer Staff Writer

 

If Philadelphia is to fully capitalize on the business-growth and employment potential of the nascent green economy, a deeper commitment is needed from government, nonprofits, and the private sector, a study released yesterday concludes.

Help is especially needed to train a workforce for these new jobs.

The Emerging Industries Project is a 93-page analysis of three areas of the green economy: sustainable manufacturing, construction and demolition waste recycling, and energy efficiency and building retrofits.

Other sectors are planned for future study, said Kate Houstoun, green-jobs coordinator at the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. It directed the study, along with the Green Economy Task Force, to help guide funding that has begun to pour from Washington and Harrisburg to grow sustainable businesses and create jobs.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested,” Houstoun said. “We want to ensure that those are wise investments.”

The research was largely based on input from 40 local businesses looking to thrive in the green economy. The industry sectors highlighted in the study were selected for their growth potential and the likelihood they would create family-sustaining jobs, especially for those who have the most difficulty landing work, Houstoun said.

The report cited deregulation of electricity generation and the increasing affordability of energy-efficiency options as driving business growth in the energy-efficiency/retrofit sector. What’s needed, it said, are workers with “the ability and willingness to learn new skills and technology.”

The city could play a big role in developing a vibrant construction and demolition-waste-recovery industry, the report said, by prioritizing bids for public projects from building contractors whose plans include such materials recycling. It also suggested adoption of an ordinance mandating such recycling for private-sector building and demolition projects.

But it was manufacturing that dominated the report.

While the city has lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs over the last four decades, that sector also represents “a new and exciting era” in Philadelphia, the report said. It cited the city’s infrastructure “from its workshop-of-the-world past” among the assets that position Philadelphia to catch “this wave of green manufacturing at the forefront.”

What the city lacks, the report found, is a workforce adequately prepared for green-economy manufacturing. Rather than mass-produced goods, the factories of the green economy will be required to produce highly specialized products for such things as solar panels and wind turbines requiring sophisticated equipment and processes and well-trained employees.

In addition to calling for the creation of more workforce development programs, the report’s manufacturing recommendations include:

Changing city procurement policies to give preference to local manufacturers.

Growing and finding ways to connect local supply and demand markets so that manufacturers can be assured of buyers for their goods.

Establishing a “green clearinghouse” of resources available to manufacturers for sustainability initiatives.

Because the report had input from a number of “key stakeholders,” including the city Commerce Department, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., and Select Greater Philadelphia, Elliott Gold, the author of the manufacturing and waste-recovery sections, said he was optimistic that “our recommendations will actually be read and have higher likelihood for actual implementation.”

Among those intent on seeing that the report does translate into action is Natalia Olson-Urtecho, who serves on the city’s planning and zoning code commissions. She was also an adviser to the manufacturing and construction-waste-recovery portions of the report.

On manufacturing, Olson-Urtecho said, the study makes a case for stopping what has “eroded perilously” the city’s base of industrial-zoned land: the use of such tracts for commercial and residential development. Vacant industrial lots should be converted to clean technology parks, she said.