To fill your car with biodiesel in Philadelphia, you head to the Shell station on 12th and Vine. To power your entire bus fleet with biodiesel, like the Philadelphia Eagles, you join the Energy Cooperative.
If he becomes the next president, Barack Obama pledges that 25 percent of U.S. electricity will come from renewable resources such as biodiesel by 2025, creating 5 million new “green collar” jobs along the way. Spurred by public demand for cheaper and cleaner energy, and by Pennsylvania’s new alternative energy incentives, some Philadelphia businesses are already getting in on the action.
At the Energy Cooperative, a competitive energy supplier founded in Philadelphia in 1979, David Weinar doesn’t pick up the constantly ringing phone to chat about the hard-earned Phillies World Series win or the upcoming election. He fields 20 to 30 calls a day about something far more mundane: access to reasonably-priced heating oil.
The Coop boasts 6,500 members, ranging from homeowner in search of cheaper heating oil to businesses and municipalities—including area school districts, the City of Philadelphia, and even Peco, Pennsylvania’s largest utility—that buy biodiesel in bulk from the organization. Fifty-four of the Coop’s members are now participating in a program that allows them to sell solar power harvested from their rooftops back to the Coop.
The Energy Cooperative benefited from recent State legislation that encourages the development of renewable energy resources in Pennsylvania. Like proposed legislation at the national level, there are also looming penalties for Pennsylvania utility companies that don’t invest in renewable energy, which must make up at least 3 percent of their energy portfolios by 2011.
“Companies are looking to expand their options and keep energy costs down,” said Pete Alyanakian of Epuron, a Hamburg, Germany-based company that was lured to Philadelphia in 2007 by Pennsylvania’s incentives and open market for alternative energy suppliers. “This is a major driver for alternative energy development.”
This year, Epuron completed one 3-megawatt solar energy project in Falls Township, Bucks County, and has another project planned for a 7-acre abandoned field in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. Solar panels in the Navy Yard will have the capacity to harvest one megawatt of energy from the sun, potentially enough to power 500 homes and offset 2.5 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
For municipalities, the benefit of the solar projects are two-fold: Epuron sets up its solar panels on contaminated, unwanted and vacant land that municipalities are more than happy to transform. The projects also create jobs for unionized steel workers and electricians. The Falls Township solar panel installation employed more than 75 workers, for example, and the Navy Yard project will employ more than 40 workers.
The jobs are short-lived—the Navy Yard installation will probably take about three months—but a growing number of such projects could help create the kind of “green collar” workforce touted by Obama, who has vowed to use government mandates and tax incentives to encourage development of renewable energy. Senator John McCain also acknowledges the need for renewable energy development, but does not believe in using government mandates to promote it.
Regardless of who wins, the election will affect the alternative energy market and the type of jobs created by it.
Currently, state definitions of renewable energy vary widely, which makes it difficult for companies such as Epuron to do business across state lines. The next Congress and President will be tasked with developing a Federal Renewable Energy Portfolio that will determine what qualifies as renewable energy, which will have a direct impact on green businesses.
Paul Glover, professor of Metropolitan Ecology at Temple University and founder of Green Jobs Philly, isn’t waiting for the federal government to figure out renewable energy definitions and funding schemes.
“Philly must become profoundly green, or it’ll become a ghost town,” Glover said, noting that the price of food and fuel is rising faster than most Philadelphia households can afford. Glover, who rode his bike to the Phillies victory parade last week toting a traveling display about creating green jobs in Philadelphia, urges fellow Philadelphians to get involved in the green economy through local collaborative efforts, an approach he believes could bring 100,000 green jobs to the Philadelphia area.
“In Philadelphia, we need to focus on access to low-cost energy solutions for low-income people,” Glover said. “Most green jobs won’t be created by large companies or the government. They’ll be created by networks of people.”