Part 4: Solar Industry Challenged By Market Swings

  • The Hanken Group Solar Farm, in Morgantown, Berks County, PA. Photo: Marie Cusick, StateImpact PA.

December 19, 2014

by Marie Cusick

A few years ago, solar power seemed like a good investment. But the market has changed.

Standing next to a solar array in Berks County, Pennsylvania, you can see the Turnpike traffic, but the place still feels like a farm. The panels are tucked in behind rows of corn. Lance Hillegas is vice president of design and sustainable development with the Hankin Group—it’s the real estate development company that built the business park where we’re standing.

In the distance, there’s a business that makes vinyl windows. It gets most of the electricity produced when the panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity. “That factory, annually we supply between 40 and 50 percent of their electric," Hillegas said.

When the Hankin Group built this solar farm a few years ago, it looked like a good investment. The state was providing credits for solar energy, each worth $300. But last year, those credits dipped to only $30.

The funding for another key support of solar energy also dried up last year. Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Solar Program, launched in 2009 under former Governor Ed Rendell, provided 100 million dollars in rebates for solar panels on homes and small businesses.

DESPITE MARKET CHANGES, SOLAR SHINES

The industry has grown rapidly here and the price for panels has plummeted.

Pennsylvania ranks 11th in the nation for installed solar capacity—that’s enough to power about 28,000 homes.

But it’s still just a small drop in the bucket of the state’s electric portfolio. Only three and half percent of its power comes from all renewable sources… including wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

For more on this story, check out StateImpact PA's website.