Earlier this month, FirstEnergy Solutions announced that they will be closing their Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant in Beaver County in 2021. FirstEnergy Solutions, which runs the plant, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March and will be closing all its coal and nuclear power plants. This closure, against the backdrop of closing coal and nuclear plants across the country, has led to a flurry of debate about a government bailout of failing power plants and the potential cost impacts on ratepayers and taxpayers. As industry groups, regulators, and elected leaders engage in their political jockeying on either side of the issue, the reality on the ground in Beaver County is that many jobs and a substantial amount of local government tax revenue will soon disappear.
During this period of disruption, communities across Pennsylvania have an opportunity to steer our energy system in a new direction—one no longer dominated by a few large companies with distant investors controlling our electricity generation. Thanks to solar photovoltaic technology, we can build a new energy system where everyone can own their own “power plant,” where local communities can decide where their energy comes from and ensure that more wealth stays local, rather than padding the pockets of monopoly utilities.
Distributed solar must be the cornerstone of this new energy system. The transition is already happening. In 2017, there were more Pennsylvanians working in the solar industry than in wind, coal, or natural gas. Over 18,000 solar installations are up and running in the state, with many more on the way. Maybe you are one of those solar owners. Or perhaps you will soon be joining their ranks by participating in one of our solar co-ops.
But this transition won’t happen unless we work for it and ensure that everyone can benefit. Rather than bailing out failing power plants, we should be helping local communities transition to a new energy economy, built on a foundation of local control and distributed solar.