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Pennsylvania needs PRESS now more than ever

The fracked gas industry should be worried. Lawmakers are considering a bill to increase Pennsylvania’s usage of clean energy sources. On June 24, 2024, the PA House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a hearing on HB 2277 (Otten) to consider the Pennsylvania Reliable Energy Sustainability Standard, better known as “PRESS”—an overhaul of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) Act. PRESS envisions a future where 35% of our energy is derived from Tier I sources by 2035. This ambitious goal necessitates a significant expansion of our solar generation, a vision we glimpsed in the “Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future” project in 2018, along with parallel growth in wind and other clean sources. 

How did we get here? 

In 2004, Pennsylvania passed the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) Act to diversify its energy sources. The goal was to promote a cleaner environment and protect PA households from increasing energy costs. It accomplished this by establishing what is known as “portfolio standards” or targets, requiring energy companies to ensure that a certain percentage of the energy they sell in Pennsylvania comes from clean sources such as solar and wind, among others. Pennsylvania was among the first states to adopt a portfolio standard. Still, the goals set for clean energy turned out to be too modest—clean “Tier I” energy sources were to provide a mere 8% of our energy needs. 

Consequently, other states surpassed us in attracting new clean energy development and the associated job opportunities. 


Expanding solar generation is the right move for Pennsylvania. 

If we hope to avoid the worst impacts of the growing climate crisis, we need to maximize our clean, renewable generation as quickly as possible. Cutting carbon pollution is vital, but more clean energy means fewer toxic air pollutants, heavy metals, harmful particulates, and smog-producing chemicals will be dumped in our atmosphere.  

  • Can I live near a solar farm and not develop asthma? Yes, there is no scientific evidence that living near a solar farm poses any health risks. 
  • Can I raise children near a solar farm without them developing cancer? Yes, there is no scientific evidence that living near a solar farm poses any health risks. 

The same cannot be said for living next to a fracking pad. 

Solar energy also makes economic sense. Sharon Pillar, Executive Director of the PA Solar Center, testified about recent modeling showing a bill like this bringing over $13 billion in new investment over the next few years and creating over 100,000 jobs. Robert Routh, attorney and Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, spoke about the Council’s analysis, showing PRESS could create over 15,000 new jobs each year from 2025 through 2040 while increasing the energy we export to other states. 

We need PRESS now more than ever.  

When AEPS was first considered, coal generation was responsible for 57 percent of Pennsylvania's electricity, and methane gas (in the days before fracking) provided less than 1 percent. Today, fracked gas provides more than 58 percent of our electricity, and coal is at 6 percent and falling.  

While the fracking industry is quick to point out that coal’s failure to compete in the market with fracked gas resulted in lower emissions, they want us to ignore that the gas boom has left us in a dangerous and unsustainable situation. 

After the pandemic in 2022, fracked gas set bad records for its price volatility. Worse yet, retail prices in the region were almost 50 percent higher than at the start of the fracking boom. Not surprisingly, consumers’ electric prices also spiked with the increasing dependence on fracked gas for generation.  

While boom-and-bust volatility is common in the fossil fuel industry, the poor gas reliability problem exacerbated the situation. During Winter Storm Elliot, which struck Pennsylvania over Christmas 2023, more than 70 percent of the unplanned outages on the PJM power grid were caused by gas plants being unable to run when needed. That drove wholesale electric prices in some places on our grid over $3,700 per megawatt hour, more than 200 times our typical wholesale prices. 

It would be ridiculous to imagine a financial advisor who, upon finding their client had 58% of their life savings in a highly volatile and risky stock, would recommend that the best course of action would be to double down and put even more eggs in that basket.  

If you want to mitigate volatility and risk, the obvious answer is to diversify your investments. If someone were to suggest otherwise, you might suspect they are putting their own interests ahead of yours and (rightly) take everything they say with a large grain of salt.  Hearing the fracking industry say Pennsylvania needs more gas is a giant red flag and should raise those same concerns. 


The fracking industry has reason to worry. 

Having seen the coal industry go from dominating the energy generation sector to a footnote in just a few years, the fracking industry is rightly scared of the same happening to them. The writing may be on the wall already—clean, renewable generation is often less expensive and is getting cheaper. When we look at “active” projects in our power grid’s interconnection process, Pennsylvania has over 13,000 megawatts of solar and only 35 megawatts of gas in the pipeline. As much as the industry wants to blame environmentalists and regulators for its woes, it seems to have increasing difficulty convincing Wall Street that it is a good bet. 

If there was any doubt that the industry is worried, the performance of one of the pro-fracking speakers from the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association (PMA) at the hearing was telling. I can’t say he included every misleading half-truth, scare tactic, or borderline conspiracy theory that anyone ever applied to solar energy. Still, if he left any out, it wasn’t for lack of trying.  

The telling exchange, though, came after his talk.  

Representative Otten, the prime sponsor of the PRESS bill, spoke up: “I am always entertained by your hyperbole…” (she began before noting the speaker was, ostensibly, at the hearing representing Pennsylvania’s manufacturing interests).   

Rep. Otten: “So is that the position of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association that you're not interested in and taking advantage of the federal programs [Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act] that are designed to grow the economy and bring jobs to Pennsylvania?”  

Rather than answer “no,” the speaker took the opportunity to lecture the Representative on the virtues of private investment and expressed concern that competition in the market might cause the gas industry to “lose organic economic growth.” 

Rep. Causer added an accusation that investments such as these were a case of the government “picking winners and losers.”   

While the speaker from PMA referred to federal clean energy investments as “market manipulations,” neither he nor Rep. Causer mentioned how heavily subsidized the fossil fuel industry has been at the state and federal levels for decades. Also, when Rep. Armanini—who earlier criticized clean energy—complained that a company in his district didn’t qualify for a particular government program, he didn’t get the same lecture on the virtue of private investment; there was no suggestion that the program was a “market manipulation;” there was just a mournful look from the speaker who said, “that is very sad.”  

It's important to ask: Why is it that the polluting industry never seems to be held to the same standards as clean energy? 

PennFuture is ramping up our efforts to connect economic development to environmental issues to promote a healthy economy, healthy communities, and a healthy environment. If you’d like to support our efforts on sustainable economic development in Pennsylvania, please consider becoming a member today. Your support is what makes reports like this possible.

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