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Environment & Energy

Nation’s Largest Solar Energy Provider Expanding Service To Western PA

SolarCity, the largest solar energy provider in the country, announced Monday it will be expanding its service to western Pennsylvania. Installations will begin as soon as this summer.

SolarCity, the largest solar energy provider in the nation, announced Monday it's extending service into the western Pennsylvania region.

SolarCity plans to open an operations center in the Pittsburgh area, along with creating 75 new jobs. Installations are set to begin as early as this summer for customers within the Duquesne Light utility territory, according to SolarCity.

SolarCity’s board of directors includes Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and co-founder of PayPal.

Sharon Pillar, president of the Solar Unified Network of Western Pennsylvania, said SolarCity's decision is a "testament" to the growth of solar energy, "that a company this large would come here and they see there's a great opportunity to build more solar here." According to Pillar, there were about 230 solar-powered homes in Allegheny County as of fall 2015.

Still Pittsburgh "lags behind" the rest of the country when it comes to clean energy, according to Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of Pennsylvania-based environmental advocacy group PennFuture. 

“Clearly we see solar and wind (energy) expanding dramatically in places like Texas and California and throughout the Midwest,” Schweiger said. “Pennsylvania has not seen that kind of growth.”

According to Pillar, solar is growing much faster in northeastern states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts because their policymakers are "incentivizing" the solar industry, while Pennsylvania lawmakers have not made it a priority.

The average solar panel installation costs around $20,000, before a federal tax credit cuts the price tag down to $14,000, according to Pillar. But she said the cost of solar power, "even with the loan payment (for the installation cost) is approaching what (customers) have been paying for their electric bills."

Schweiger said, while solar energy has some drawbacks, such as the fact energy can only be generated during the daylight, its environmental benefits are worth it.

“We are rapidly approaching a 2-degree rise in temperature,” he said. “The scientists have warned us that once we go over that we’ll see a dramatic shift in the climate system on the planet, and solar energy enables us to have carbon-free energy, so it doesn’t pollute the sky.”

Schweiger said lithium battery storage will assist solar panels in storing more energy.

He added the clean energy industry is booming nationwide, with more than 2.5 million people employed — which is more than the number of gas and coal employees in the U.S