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BY: Wilford Shamlin III

An interfaith group representing 60 denominations joined local environmental group Earth Quaker Action Team in pushing PECO, which provides electricity for residential and commercial customers, to pursue more clean-energy alternatives.

Eileen Flanagan, chair of the environmental group, said Black and Latino communities were more likely to experience health hazards from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil for energy.

The two organizations gathered Wednesday in the lobby of PECO headquarters in Center City. The environmentalists gave an example of hot dogs grilled on a barbecue, leaving a bed of ash in its basin that’s similar to the residue from burning fossil fuel coal.

“There’s a lot of that toxic stuff but it’s disproportionately affects African-American communities,” said Flanagan, drawing comparisons to similar environmental concerns raised across the country in areas populated predominantly by Hispanic and Native Americans.

The environmental concerns also has been compounded by racial and economic inequality.

“Because we think of ourselves as separate, we don’t see it as the same problem,” Flanagan noted about combating the problem.

A proposal on the table calls for generating solar energy by building solar panels on the rooftop of buildings owned by Temple University, Girard College and PECO. Total acreage would be nearly 200 acres with Temple University contributing the highest numbers of acres, 120, and Girard College buildings adding roughly 50 acres and PECO building providing about 30 acres.

Sharon Overton, who serves on the local green jobs initiatives for the interfaith group, Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild, POWER, looked up to the sky and proclaimed, “Keep our energy jobs local.”

Ben Armstrong, spokesman for PECO, pledged to keep communication lines open with the demonstrators.

“We share their commitment to the environment and our region and we do look forward to continuing our discussions with them,” Armstrong said. “The company is focused on safe and reliable delivery of energy service and as part of that effort, we procure or purchase energy on our customers’ behalf, including solar energy.

“PECO purchases enough solar energy to power 2,000 residential households twice each year, in March and September, and submits those plans to the Pennsylvania’s state regulators for approval. The utility runs the bidding process through a third party bidding for energy suppliers and wholesalers,” he said.

PECO’s sister company, Constellation, is the third largest developer in Pennsylvania of solar installations for commercial, industrial, government and customers, and its parent company, Excelon, has a portfolio of wind-generating power projects across the country, Armstrong said.

“The company also has brought its buildings, roof, vehicle fleet and supplies like LED bulbs used in its outdoor messaging board, in compliance with green energy-efficiency standards,” he said.

The demonstrators are seeking a commitment from PECO on pursing solar energy and create local jobs ahead in crafting a plan to address the issue this spring. They joined forces with interfaith organizations after meeting with PECO officials over the last 10 months in an effort to keep the utility from hiring outside the state for energy suppliers.

In a statement, Rabbi Julie Greenberg and members of POWER said, “In a neighborhood desperate for jobs, North Philadelphia’s vast acreage of flat rooftops is an asset crying out for development.”