13 Counties Convene at Chester County Economic Development Council’s 9th Annual Energy Briefing

energyImage by Arek Socha

EXTON, PA — The Chester County Economic Development Council’s 9th Annual Energy Briefing kicked off Tuesday with businesses from 13 counties seeking solutions to effective energy consumption.

“The Texas power crisis has brought attention to the types of energy issues that Pennsylvania businesses and communities have long been looking to resolve,” said CCEDC President and CEO Gary Smith. “With Pennsylvania considering key measures affecting energy consumption and emissions, we’re at a crossroads for energy usage in the Commonwealth.”

Presented virtually on Tuesday, February 23, 2021 by CCEDC’s Smart Energy Initiative (SEI), the 9th Annual Energy Briefing featured the Commonwealth’s key energy players as they tackled the future of energy conservation provisions in Act 129, Pennsylvania’s role in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and carbon dioxide emissions, and legislation that would authorize community solar development. Attendees included SEI’s network of energy professionals from 13 counties (Philadelphia, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, Lancaster, Lebanon, Dauphin, York and, Cumberland), including facilities managers, energy professionals, building owners, developers, municipality managers and sanitation managers.

Allen Landis, Executive Director at the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority, outlined Pennsylvania’s efforts to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). It’s the nation’s first multi-state program to reduce power sector CO2 emissions while generating state revenue to support public and private sector investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Landis said the Commonwealth received about 14,000 responses in the public comment portion of the plan, which just closed. The next step is to engage with industrial and environmental groups, as well as workers to consider how revenue would be used for overall benefit. Pennsylvania aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025, and 80% by 2050.

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Jeff Byers, Senior Efficiency Program Manager at PECO, spoke on PECO’s efforts to help businesses achieve energy savings on time and within budget as required by PA Act 129. He pointed to $119 million in incentives received by businesses and organizations including retailers, hotels, hospitals, manufacturers, schools and local governments. Applications for the current PECO Smart Ideas program must be submitted by May 15, 2021, with the next phase beginning June 1st.

While an application process is necessary to set up these savings, Byers noted that businesses can more immediately realize savings by participating in PECO’s Instant Lighting Discount Program, which allows businesses to receive instant discounts at local retailers on LED lighting at checkout. “Adoption has been fantastic for both small and large businesses,” Byers said.

Chuck Miller, Senior Director of Energy Solutions at Pennoni Associatesshared his company’s approach to how microgrids with battery storage can deliver continuous energy resources to critical operation centers. “The key here is that microgrids stand alone during an event that knocks power off the grid,” Miller said. Acknowledging recent events in Texas, he commented, “The ability to have a system that can support businesses and communities when the grid goes offline is becoming more of a need.”

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While the goal is “net zero,” meaning that the total amount of energy used by a building is equal to the amount of renewable energy created, Miller said right now businesses and communities need solutions that investors are willing to pursue and have a reliable cash flow. “I see carbon as necessary in the immediate future to create a bridge to net zero, with the most viable bridge being Combined Heat and Power solutions,” Miller said.

He recommends that businesses work on a blend of energy strategies that heavily relies on providing a cash stream to the business owner. Currently, that includes incentives (federal, state, local and utility). Miller said Combined Heat and Power is another reliable cash stream, and historically solar performance is a lower risk.

Micah Gold-Markel, Founder of Solar States, spoke on the state of the local solar industry and how businesses can invest in renewable energy through the use of federal tax credits, Solarize Philadelphia and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs).

“When I talk about renewable energy as an industry, it’s really all about jobs, jobs, jobs here in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Gold-Markel. “Lots of solar companies are clustered in the southeastern portion of Pennsylvania because of its proximity to other states. These can be huge job creators.”

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Gold-Markel acknowledges that Pennsylvania has had a bumpy ride when it comes to solar, referring to it as a “solar coaster.” He sees great promise, however, in a bipartisan effort in the State Senate to get a bill passed that will increase the amount of solar energy required to meet Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards. He also highlighted the development of community solar projects, which allow the public to buy solar energy from a community solar source, as well as advances in community solar on agricultural lands that are underused in Pennsylvania.

“Texas points to the importance of having resiliency and storage on our electrical networks, so we can get through major weather events,” said Gold-Markel.

The 9th Annual Energy Briefing was sponsored by PECO,  Pennsylvania Geothermal Heat Pump Association, Inc., and Pennoni. The event was funded in part by the Chester County Workforce Development Board.

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