Pennsylvania hosts second annual Solar Congress

By Lisa Rimmert on February 25, 2020

More than 150 people attended the 2020 Pennsylvania Solar Congress on Saturday, Feb. 15. Many attendees were local to Indiana County, while others drove from other parts of the commonwealth. Attendance at the event was double that of the inaugural event in 2019!

This free conference featured a variety of educational sessions. There was something for everyone: solar supporters, owners, and advocates.

The day began with welcome remarks by Indiana County Commissioner Sherene Hess. Then, attendees heard from Solar United Neighbors Pennsylvania Program Director Henry McKay. He spoke about the state of solar in Pennsylvania, touting the growth in rural areas like Indiana County.

The event had something for everyone. The first two sessions provided an introduction to solar energy and advocating for solar in coal country.

Solar United Neighbors Director of Co-ops Roger Horowitz explained how rooftop solar works. He also spoke about what it means to join a Solar United Neighbors co-op. Attendees showed great interest and asked a lot of questions. Luckily, there are currently two solar co-ops running—one in Indiana County and another in Westmoreland.

In the next room, attendees heard from Heaven Sensky, Community Organizer for the Center for Coalfield Justice. She spoke about her experience planning and hosting a solar festival in Greene County, Penn.

The second two concurrent sessions offered a look at electric vehicles and on-farm utility scale solar. Many Pennsylvania farmers have the opportunity to lease their land to host utility scale solar arrays. PennState Extension educator Ed Johnstonbaugh provided insight to help farmers navigate that process. Meanwhile, Three Rivers Electric Vehicle Association President Jonathan Belak presented about electric vehicles. He provided information about shopping for, owning, and driving an electric car.

Following lunch, many attendees saw electric vehicles firsthand in the parking lot. They spoke with the owners and asked specific questions about their experiences.

The group then split into two to learn about grassroots advocacy and local government leadership in solar. A panel of local leaders told of their work to make solar more accessible to homeowners and business owners in Indiana County.

Those interested in advocacy attended a training by Solar United Neighbors Engagement Specialist Alexis Miller. She provided tips and best practices for lobbying legislators, writing letters to the editor, and more. There are two important solar bills in the legislature now: the Community Solar Bill (SB 705, HB 531) and a bill to modernize Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (SB 600, HB 1195).

Finally, Solar Congress attendees came back together in one room for an open forum. They discussed their priorities and plans for advancing solar in Pennsylvania. First, they paired up to converse about opportunities they see for the solar movement. Then, they divided into four groups to brainstorm and outline their next steps.

Several attendees kept the discussion going at a happy hour after the Solar Congress.

The Solar Congress provided a platform for attendees to meet, learn, and explore. And that’s just the beginning! We at Solar United Neighbors can’t wait to see what attendees will do together to advance solar in Pennsylvania.

Here are some ways you can keep the momentum going: