Local solar business owner: State's solar push not replacing traditional energy, but expanding opportunities

Solar Opportunities owner Robert Vanderpool and wife Louise are pictured at their Sheshequin Road property.

When it comes to the recent alternative energy push being seen in Harrisburg, a local solar business owner says it’s not so much about getting rid of traditional energy sources, but providing alternatives that can help reduce emissions while providing additional job opportunities in the fields of wind and solar.

Robert Vanderpool started Solar Opportunities at 2201 Sheshequin Road last summer from a passion for the technology that began as a casual interest and grew when he became a customer.

“I had it put on my house and then I started seeing the benefits of it,” Vanderpool said. “And the technology that comes with it today is just amazing.”

Vanderpool’s business has installed solar on properties as far south as Williamsport and as far north as Candor in New York state, and has three projects currently in the works along with a showroom/store that he’s planning to open this summer.

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a plan to bring in nearly 50% of the state government’s electricity through seven solar energy arrays that will be built in different parts of the state. The project is set to go online on Jan. 1, 2023.

Shortly after, state Sens. Dan Laughlin (R-49) and Art Haywood (D-4) introduced legislation that would require electricity suppliers to source 18% of their power from alternative energy by 2026, which includes a combined 5.5% from solar energy sources. Under the current Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, electricity suppliers are currently required to provide 8% of energy from alternative sources, including .5% solar. These levels would remain steady if the current AEPS is allowed to expire next month.

“Renewable energy creates jobs, saves farmers, and can help us to save the planet,” Haywood said. “We believe strongly that this proposal could be one of the largest economic development and job stimulus bills in decades.”

The senators noted that the neighboring states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and most New England states have set goals to have 50% of electricity supplied alternatively by 2030, while Virginia has called for 100% clean energy by 2050.

Specifically responding to the governor’s proposal, state Sen. Gene Yaw said, “I have said repeatedly, I favor a diverse energy portfolio. I am not against any energy source. What I am against is the failure to recognize what “clean” energy really entails. There is a manufacturing process, which is totally ignored. Further, the intermittent nature of wind and solar requires a duplicate generation system powered by coal, gas or nuclear.”

Yaw’s criticism also included concerns about whether there would be enough open acreage to accommodate a solar power expansion, saying 12,000 acres of panels would be required to equal the power output of two combines cycle gas fired power plants that take up 40 acres.

“I understand what he’s saying and, again, I want to remind everybody that it’s not like we’re just going to take over and this is going to be a gas and oil free country in 10 years – that isn’t going to happen,” said Vanderpool, who’s previously reached out to both Yaw and state Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) on the issue of solar energy. “We’re looking to minimize and we’re looking to utilize that giant ball of fire in the sky. It’s there. Why not utilize it?” Plus, he said, it would ensure a better environment for future generations.

Vanderpool looks forward to a future with an increased reliance on solar – and the possibility of helping provide that energy supply. He also hopes to one day be able to hold forums to educate the community more about the technology.

One misconception he highlighted was that solar doesn’t work as well in Pennsylvania’s cooler climate, but he said cooler temperatures actually help the solar panels work better,

The recently introduced legislation to expand the AEPS has received support from groups such as the Solar United Neighbors, which Vanderpool is a part of.

Connect with Matt: (570) 265-2151 ext. 1628; mhicks@thedailyreview.com; Facebook @Matt Hicks Daily Review.