(The Center Square) — As Pennsylvania solar capacity grows rapidly — accounting for more than half of the state’s proposed energy projects — so do questions about how maintenance costs for the power grid should be distributed.

During a public hearing hosted by the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee on Tuesday, experts tussled over whether legal favoritism for solar projects — combined with overreliance on traditional power sources — may leave some ratepayers footing more of the bill for grid upkeep than others.

Ratepayers subsidize energy infrastructure through bill surcharges, but those relying on solar power don’t necessarily share the same load, said David Fisfis, Vice President of Energy Policy and General Counsel for Duquesne Light.

“All of your other constituents and our customers have to cover those costs,” he said. “Is there really a need going forward to continue to have the non-solar customers subsidizing the solar customers for the distribution, the transmission, the energy efficiency, and the low-income customer programs?”

He argued that what was necessary 20 years ago when Pennsylvania solar was less common is not anymore.

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“We’re supportive of renewables, we’re supportive of clean energy, we’re supportive of the governor’s all-the-above plan, but we’re not supportive of, in essence, shifting more costs at this stage,” Fisfis said.

Indeed, solar has had leaps-and-bounds growth over the last decade with an average annual growth rate of 24 percent, said CleanCapital Vice President of Policy and Market Development Scott Elias. Likewise, he said, installation costs have dropped by more than half.

Most solar generation comes from rooftop solar on non-residential buildings, which has some maintenance benefits, Elias said.

“They can make the grid more resilient and less expensive,” he said. “A more decentralized grid where power is produced closer to where it’s used through distributed customer-generators can reduce the wear and tear on the grid.”

As of 2021, Pennsylvania had almost 48,000 megawatts of installed capacity for electricity generation, according to PJM — the regional transmission organization that manages the power grid for Pennsylvania and 12 other states. Natural gas comprised 21,000 megawatts, followed by 10,000 megawatts of coal and 9,000 megawatts of nuclear. Solar accounted for only 37 megawatts.

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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