Though Pennsylvania has one of the nation's largest coal-mining industries and second-largest nuclear power fleet, the state has taken some important steps to develop its clean energy potential.[1] In 2007, Montgomery County became the first wind-powered county in the nation.[2] Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, enacted in 2004, has one of the most ambitious solar provisions in the eastern United States, requiring that solar energy generate 0.5 percent of the commonwealth's electricity by 2020. The Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority has invested upwards of $10 million each year since 2004 in clean energy projects. The projects selected for 2010 alone are expected to create 1,400 jobs and generate a lifetime energy savings of 10.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.[3]

Pennsylvania's 63,000 farms and 2.7 million livestock animals also hold promise for renewable energy, in the form of biofuels made from energy crops and biogas from livestock waste.[4]

The renewables map shows current and future facilities generating energy from wind, biomass, solar power, and biogas.

Wind Energy

windmills in a cattle pasture

Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County was the first wind-powered county in the nation

Pennsylvania's existing wind farms, mostly located in the Appalachian southwest, have the capacity to produce 750 megawatts of energy -- enough to power the equivalent of 180,000 homes. With an estimated wind resource of 3,307 megawatts, there's plenty of room for expansion. The state currently ranks 16th in the nation in installed wind power capacity.[5]

Expanding wind energy can provide an economic boost to the state. In 2010, the industry supported, directly and indirectly, upwards of 4,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. Fifteen facilities manufacture components for the wind industry, including several plants operated by leading wind turbine builder Gamesa, which employs more than 800 people statewide.[6]

In 2007, Pennsylvania's Montgomery County became the first wind-powered county in the nation. The county's two-year commitment to buy 100 percent of its electricity from wind energy (5 percent) and renewable energy credits derived from wind energy (95 percent) was one of the ten largest municipal green power projects in the United States that year.[7]

The state's largest wind facilities are Armenia Mountain wind farm and Locust Ridge II, both built in 2009 with capacities of about 100 megawatts. Armenia Mountain, developed and owned by AES Wind Generation, sells its power to Delmarva Power and Light and Old Dominion Electric Cooperative.[8] Locust Ridge II, in Columbia and Schuylkill counties, expands on a smaller wind farm launched by a local resident. The project is developed and owned by Iberdrola Renewables.[9]

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

Tractor in a field of switchgrass

Credit: Gretz, Warren - NREL Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania has the potential to grow 825,000 acres of switchgrass -- enough to produce up to 1 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol

Corn and soybeans are not widely grown in Pennsylvania, so the state was not an early adopter of biofuel production. But Pennsylvania can excel in the ethanol industry's next wave: turning crop residues and fast-growing trees and grasses into cellulosic ethanol.

The best biofuels protect the environment and food supplies while improving the economic welfare of workers and communities. Cellulosic ethanol, which is made from crop waste and non-food crops, is the biofuel of the future. It can produce four to ten times as much energy as corn ethanol without swallowing up huge tracts of food-growing farmland or forests. Pennsylvania is at present the only state to mandate the use of cellulosic ethanol in gasoline, a provision which will kick in when in-state production reaches 350 million gallons.[10]

According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania has the potential to grow 825,000 acres of the energy crop switchgrass -- enough to make between 250 million and 1 billion gallons of ethanol, depending on the maturity of cellulosic ethanol technology.[11]

Small-scale refineries are already exploring cellulosic ethanol potential in Pennsylvania. Solazyme received a $21 million federal grant in 2009 to expand its algae-based biofuels refinery on the site of a former pharmaceutical factory in Riverside, Pennsylvania. The facility could produce 500,000 to 1 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol using sucrose, switchgrass, and agricultural and municipal waste. Solazyme provides fuel to the U.S. Navy.[12]

In Madison, a semi-commercial biorefinery launched by Coskata in 2009 uses a super-hot plasma torch and bacteria to make ethanol out of wood chips and other plant materials. GM is a partner in the venture and is testing the fuel produced at the plant.[13]

Helios Scientific announced plans in late 2010 to launch a demonstration facility in Curwensville that would make 30,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year, primarily from corn husks, switchgrass, and wood waste.[14]

Solar Energy

solar panels on a house

Credit: Mercury Solar Systems

Pennsylvania is one of the top ten states in the nation for installed solar power capacity

Strong support from the state, in the form of renewable energy mandates and rebates, has made Pennsylvania one of the top ten states in the nation for installed solar power capacity.[15] Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard has one of the more ambitious solar provisions in the country[16], requiring that solar energy generate 0.5 percent of the commonwealth's electricity by 2020 -- enough power for almost 80,000 homes. It is expected to yield more than 700 megawatts of new solar photovoltaic capacity throughout the state.[17] Pennsylvania utilities, required to purchase increasing amounts of solar power each year, are already ahead of schedule. The state government is considering revising the mandate.[18]

Through the state’s $100 million Sunshine Solar rebate program, homeowners and small businesses have been earning rebates for installing solar electric and solar hot water systems.[19] According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, a 2.5-kilowatt solar system can produce about 3,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year in Pennsylvania -- at least one-third of a typical home's consumption, leading to an annual household savings of roughly $300.[20]

The Pocono Raceway produces its own electricity and more from its 25-acre, 3-megawatt solar array.[21] Keystone Solar, Pennsylvania’s first large-scale solar project, will break ground in 2012. The 6-megawatt ground-mounted array will be built on farmland in Lancaster, PA, and will generate 7,500 megawatt-hours of electricity each year -- enough to power about 950 homes. Franklin & Marshall College, also located in Lancaster, has committed to purchasing renewable energy credits from the project.[22]

In 2007, Pittsburgh was one of thirteen cities to be named a Solar America City by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and in 2008 Philadelphia won the same designation. With financial and technical assistance from the DOE, including partnerships with universities, businesses, and nonprofits, these cities have developed comprehensive plans to expand their use of solar technology. Philadelphia plans to produce 58 megawatts of solar power by 2021 –- its proportional share of the state's solar goal.[23] Pittsburgh is installing solar water heaters on city buildings and is investigating the potential of a former mining site to host the city's first solar farm.[24]

Biogas Energy

solar panels on a house

Statewide, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania's dairy cows produce more than 11.3 million tons of manure each year; beef cattle, more than 2.6 million tons; and swine, more than 1.9 million tons.[25]

As of spring 2011, Pennsylvania has 19 operating manure digesters, primarily on dairy farms, with an installed capacity of about 2,300 kilowatt-hours.[26] Biodigesters are creating a new source of income for swine and dairy farms as the market for carbon offset purchases grows. NativeEnergy, a carbon offset provider, has worked with several Pennsylvania farms to help fund biodigester projects by purchasing upfront renewable energy credits.[27]

Renewable Energy Meets Wildland and Wildlife Conservation

Certain sensitive lands -- such as parks, monuments and wildlife conservation areas -- and ecologically sensitive marine areas are not appropriate for energy development. In some of these places, energy development is prohibited or limited by law or policy, and in others it would be highly controversial. NRDC does not endorse locating energy facilities or transmission lines in such areas. Siting decisions must always be made extremely carefully, with impacts mitigated and operations conducted in an environmentally responsible manner.

For more information on the intersection between clean energy development and wildland and wildlife conservation in the American West, including locations of parks, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas, see this Google Earth-based feature.


Economic Incentives for Renewable Energy Projects in Pennsylvania

Businesses, nonprofits, universities, and municipalities can apply to the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA) for assistance with capital costs on a variety of advanced energy projects, including those based on solar energy, wind, biogas and biomass. Awards are made once a year.

Founded by FirstEnergy and administered by the Berks County Community Foundation, the Metropolitan Edison Company Sustainable Energy Fund makes venture-capital loans of up to $500,000 to businesses that use or develop renewable energy or clean technologies, support conservation and energy efficiency in their operations, or improve the surrounding environment. The fund also awards grants for feasibility studies and environmental-education projects. A companion fund administered by the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, the Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund, makes similar loans and grants to applicants in the Penelec region.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency lists federal, state and local government incentives for renewable energy projects in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection provides a list of federal, state, and private programs for funding energy technology.

The current Farm Bill offers a number of incentives for renewable energy, and the next Farm Bill is likely to offer even more. The Environmental Law and Policy Center maintains a helpful website called Farm Energy that outlines the current incentives and monitors the development of new ones.

Wind Energy

In 2006, Pennsylvania's legislature ruled that wind turbines and related equipment may not be included in property-tax assessments. Instead, the sites of wind facilities are assessed for their income-capitalization value.

Pennsylvania’s departments of Environmental Protection and Community and Economic Development administer a $25 million grant and loan program for wind and geothermal energy projects.

Wind Powering America offers a consumer’s guide to small wind power in Pennsylvania.

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

The Pennsylvania Biomass Working Group has a website on prospects for biofuel production and use in Pennsylvania. The group has a mission to "establish Pennsylvania as a national leader in the development of sustainable biomass feedstocks and conversion technologies."

Penn State’s Agricultural Extension program runs a field-scale bioenergy crop demonstration plot, where researchers analyze the economic and production potential of a variety of energy crops for northwestern Pennsylvania. The demo site is open to visitors. The extension’s website has numerous resources for farmers, including informative case studies and fact sheets about bioenergy crops.

Pennsylvania has a number of incentives for the use of alternative fuels, the purchase of an alternative-fuel vehicle, and the construction or purchase of an alternative-fuel refueling station or equipment. See the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center at the U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Solar Energy

The Pennsylvania Sunshine initiative aims to "jumpstart the solar market in Pennsylvania" and create a hospitable environment for solar-equipment manufacturers. Manufacturers of solar panels or cells can apply for production grants. Homeowners and small businesses can apply for rebates of up to 50 percent of the cost of a solar-energy system -- even more if the equipment is made in Pennsylvania.

Solar Power Rocks provides the latest information on solar rebates, tax credits and incentives for consumers.

Biogas Energy

The EPA's AgSTAR program has a comprehensive handbook on developing biogas technology. The site includes FarmWare, a free decision-making software package that can help you assess the feasibility of biogas on your farm.

The AgMRC (Agricultural Marketing Resources Center) has a rich list of links and resources on biodigestion.

The Northwest CHP (Combined Heat and Power) Application Center has a fact sheet that helps you ask all the right questions about installing a biodigester on your farm.


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