Opinion: Why Gov. Josh Shapiro’s PRESS initiative is a boon for PA’s energy sector

Leaders from Exact Solar and the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia examine how a new plan could empower PA’s energy future.

Gov. Josh Shapiro unveils his energy plan in Scranton, Pennsylvania in March 2024.

Gov. Josh Shapiro unveils his energy plan in Scranton, Pennsylvania in March 2024. Commonwealth Media Services

Pennsylvania has always been an energy leader. Now, the commonwealth is at risk of losing that status as the economic tides shift toward renewable energy. 

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed Pennsylvania Reliable Energy Sustainability Standard, also known as PRESS, will undoubtedly foster much-needed economic growth for the state’s renewable energy sector by modernizing our current renewable energy standards. Not only will this initiative create numerous energy jobs across solar, wind and other industries that support renewable development, but it will also invigorate the business community by attracting federal investments and fostering innovation in Pennsylvania’s energy sector. 

Clean energy professionals and environmental leaders widely agree that this move is an advantageous solution to both environmental and economic challenges the commonwealth faces.

Modernizing Pennsylvania’s renewable energy standards will be an economic boon for the commonwealth and will ensure Pennsylvania is not left behind in the energy transition. Earlier this year, MAREC Action, Advanced Energy United and the American Clean Power Association released a new report indicating that if a 30%-renewable-by-2030 policy is introduced, 129,000 new jobs could be created and $13.1 billion of new investment could be made in Pennsylvania over the next six years.

According to the Environment America Research and Policy Center, from 2013-2023, Pennsylvania ranked 49th in the nation for renewable energy growth as a whole, lagging behind only Alaska. The reason for this is simple – Pennsylvania’s outdated Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard. The AEPS was passed in 2004 to advance Pennsylvania’s use of alternative energy sources to traditional fossil fuels. The act requires 18% of all energy sold to retail customers to be generated from alternative sources, with only 8% required to be generated from renewables.

While Pennsylvania's alternative energy targets were ambitious in 2004, they have failed to keep pace with the escalating energy demands, market competition and the consequential impacts of climate change. 

Since the AEPS was signed into law, Pennsylvania’s renewable energy targets have not been updated. Compare this to neighboring New York, whose state legislature implemented a Renewable Energy Standard in the same year as the AEPS. From their initial target of 25% renewable energy by 2013, New York surpassed and has continued to expand their standards to 30% renewable energy by 2015 and, most recently, 70% renewable energy by 2030.

The AEPS requires suppliers to utilize Alternative Energy Credits, or AECs, to demonstrate compliance with energy standards. The credits are exchanged on a marketplace and the price of the credits acts as an economic driver for investment in renewable energy. Because Pennsylvania is falling behind in its adoption of renewables, the price of AECs have plummeted. This means Pennsylvania currently lacks the competitive edge necessary to attract new renewable energy developments funded by federal programs like the IRA.

Last month, Shapiro proposed his comprehensive energy plan that, if passed by the legislature, would save Pennsylvanians $252 million in energy costs in the first five years, create nearly 15,000 energy jobs and generate $5.1 billion in investment in clean, reliable energy sources. A key policy in the governor’s proposal, PRESS would bump Pennsylvania’s renewable energy requirement up to 35% – a significant improvement from the current 8% under the AEPS. PRESS will be pivotal in attracting federal energy investments, driving down utility costs in the long-term and building out a reliable, sustainable and economically viable energy future for Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Carolyn Comitta, the minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee – and future co-sponsor of the governor’s proposed PRESS legislation – joins the growing number of legislators recognizing the urgent need for Pennsylvania’s leadership in the energy transition.

“Pennsylvania’s path to net zero calls for a diverse energy portfolio, including a leading role for renewables like wind and solar. Renewables are on the rise nationwide because they make sense for our environmental health, our public health, and our economic health,” Comitta said. “Pennsylvania must act now to embrace renewables and remain competitive in the clean energy economy.” 

Pennsylvania’s clean energy economy is growing – and policies must follow suit. In 2023, the commonwealth added nearly 4,000 new clean energy workers in 2022. Clean energy now accounts for over one-third of all energy jobs in Pennsylvania, according to E2’s Clean Jobs PA Report.

The Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia is the foremost advocacy and membership organization dedicated to championing values-driven businesses throughout Greater Philadelphia. Serving diverse fields and professions within the energy sector, SBN has witnessed the profound impact that conscientious professionals in clean energy can wield.

Pennsylvania’s clean energy professionals understand the substantial impact PRESS has the potential to have on the commonwealth. Exact Solar, a premier solar energy systems installer serving Southeastern PA and member of SBN, detailed in a recent op-ed how the commonwealth is falling behind in the energy transition.

“The AEPS was progressive for its time … 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,” wrote Aaron Nichols, a copywriter for Exact Solar. 

Renewables are the future of energy. They now make up 17% of our total electricity in the U.S. Pennsylvania, in the last decade, has only brought online enough renewable energy to power 2% of the state’s homes, and only purchased 3% renewable energy from out of state. Pennsylvania continues to live in the past while much of the country is working towards a clean, reliable energy future.

It is time for Pennsylvania to modernize its renewable energy standards by passing PRESS. The energy sector is well-positioned for progress. Investing in clean energy jobs and renewable development is now crucial for the commonwealth’s economic sustainability.

Devi Ramkissoon is the executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia; Doug Edwards is the president of Exact Solar, a leading solar installation, engineering and service company in Greater Philadelphia; and Aaron Nichols is a NABCEP-certified climate-tech copywriter for Exact Solar.