Ever wonder what local environmental orgs do to help push for a cleaner Philadelphia? Clean Air Council’s Russell Zerbo shares with us today as guest blogger about a recent meeting with PA State Representative Curtis Thomas.
A Day in the Life of Clean Air Council
Part of my initiatives in the Clean Air Council is to improve energy efficiency working with local government officials. Pennsylvania’s once innovative Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard to encourage renewable sources is now way behind the times. We (Clean Air Council) sat down with Solar States’ Akil Marsh and State Representative Curtis Thomas to discuss how Pennsylvania can support solar power and other energy issues.
“We hear about 120,000 shale jobs in Pennsylvania, unemployment is 6.2% (the national is 6.7%), they tell us things are going well,” Rep. Thomas said. However, there are 14 counties in Pennsylvania with unemployment rates above 8%, with Cameron, Huntingdon and Philadelphia Counties all above 9 percent. Thomas placed statewide figures in context, as “We have an entire generation that’s not getting what they need…If they could be turned to do a vocational career…I’d like to get a tie-in to the future.”
Marsh acknowledged that his company was the only solar installer left in Philadelphia and how in spite of the national solar market growing by 20% this year, Pennsylvania lost 1,100 solar jobs, or more than a quarter of the market. In response, we have been requesting our members to “ask state representatives to support raising Pennsylvania’s renewable energy requirement to at least 15% by 2023.”
Pennsylvania Energy Update in 2014
If you don’t count the waste incineration and fossil fuels such as coal waste, allowed under Pennsylvania’s AEPS, the current requirement is only 8% renewable energy by 2021. This is embarrassing, particularly for a state that at one time was the forefront of wind and solar energy development. Just a few years ago, Pennsylvania employed 4,000 people to build, install and maintain wind turbines. Now, PA’s two turbine-manufacturing plants in Cambria and Bucks Counties are now closed due to the lack of supportive policies like an increased AEPS requirement.
One move forward is for the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). The PHA is currently accepting development proposals for sustainable housing to compliment past successes in efficient building practices and incorporating solar panel installation into roof construction.
The Keystone Works Program is an old program scarcely discussed now. This job-training program allows companies to receive tax credits for training new employees in “High Priority Occupations.” Last year, “Gaming Dealers” was added to this list, but lacked any mention of energy efficiency or renewables. The program desperately needs an overhaul of the occupations list.
Representative Curtis Thomas Initiatives
Last Week, Rep. Thomas introduced his own effort to promote small business in the state, allowing a five-year loan forgiveness period for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Under this bill, businesses can use these loans to purchase new heating, lighting and energy infrastructure. We need to pass this bill, to help small businesses save money.
Arguably, the biggest issue in Thomas’s office is his attempt to allow Act 201 to expire. The bill allows utilities to levy harsh penalties against their customers for missing payments, even against those who qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Marsh and the Rep’s chief of staff discussed Philly’s rooftop solar potential providing 20% of the city’s energy and 5,000 jobs (the equivalent of over two PECOs) and the appeal of solar water heaters to decrease a household’s reliance on public utilities.
With the passage of a City Council solar resolution in March, Philly is primed for action on this issue whether it is through public housing, greater oversight on development, greater incentives to small business and increased access to energy outside the grid. Marsh summed it up best by saying, “We have the option to change what powers these lights.”