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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Environmental Protection v. Vera Cole

September 12, 2012

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, PETITIONER
v.
VERA COLE, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mary Hannah Leavitt, Judge

Submitted: June 8, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge

OPINION

BY JUDGE LEAVITT

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Environmental Protection (Department) petitions for review of a final determination of the Office of Open Records (Open Records) granting Vera Cole's appeal from the Department's denial of her Right-to-Know Law*fn1 request. The Department denied Cole's request for the stated reasons that it did not have the records requested in the format requested. Nevertheless, the Department did provide Cole with most of the information "outside the context of the [Right-to-Know Law]." In granting Cole's appeal, Open Records ordered the Department to provide Cole with all of the information she requested.*fn2 Discerning no error, we affirm.

Cole, the vice-president of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (Association), sought Department records about the Pennsylvania Sunshine Program, which provides rebates to homeowners and small businesses for solar electric projects they install on their property.*fn3 Seeking to research the impact of solar installations, the Association sought to contact individuals who had received rebates under the Sunshine Program. To this end, Cole had been in contact with Thomas Bell, who oversees the Sunshine Program for the Department.

On June 13, 2011, Cole sent an e-mail to Bell, requesting . information provided in the on-line Sunshine rebate application process:

Recipient's Name

Address of the Installation

Size of the installation (in kW)

Roof or ground mount

Azimuth

Tilt

Module model and manufacturer

Inverter model and manufacturer

Utility company

Rebate approval date

Total Cost

Rebate Amount

Installer Name

Installer Address

Installer Email address . for all PV Sunshine Rebate recipients to date (residential and small business) [and noting that she would] ask for a final list when [the] program closes.

Reproduced Record at 41a-42a (emphasis added) (R.R. ___). Cole's e-mail further stated that:

[i]t is our understanding that data of this nature is within the terms of Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law. We respect that Section 708 (b)(6)(i)(A) provides exceptions for personal data that cannot be released. We are not asking for any details protected by this section (such as phone numbers, personal email addresses or personal financial information).

R.R. 41a (emphasis added). In closing, Cole's e-mail noted that "[i]t would be easiest for us, and hopefully you too, to receive this data ...


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