Pennsylvania’s Green Eco-Slumber

As a poster child for liberal energy policies throughout the country, Pennsylvania’s Governor Ed Rendell has issued the edict to grow the state’s energy resources greener. Huge sums of taxpayer-supplied subsidy and stimulus have been funneled into the greening of Pennsylvania’s energy supply. These funds are artificially diverted by the governor from other more practical uses by the state’s citizens, who are already staggering under the weight of a bloated state and federal government, including a government-driven, mortgage-debacle economic downturn.

The Pennsylvania governor’s signature efforts appear designed to lead the way into the wilderness that is the energy debacle of our times. Like many of the rest of the country’s liberal leaders, the governor has disfavored established, economically abundant energy sources in favor of alternative “green” options. In typical fashion for his political party, the governor surrounded himself with eco-activist leftists and teamed with a state legislature to deliver Pennsylvanians to the job-killing, consumer-taxing, greening of today’s energy for tomorrow. Two laws highlight what has happened:

Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (a.k.a. Alternative Energy Law) was passed in November 2004. This law requires each electric-distribution company or electric-generation supplier to supply 18 percent of its electricity using alternative-energy sources by year 2020. These alternative sources include economically unviable options such as solar, wind, and landfill methane gas, among many other even more bizarre and specialty sources of energy, such as wood pulp.

One does not have to be a geography, climate, or Northeast-states expert to recognize the impracticality of these alternative sources in Pennsylvania. Yet, the lack of economic viability for these alternative sources was determined to be insignificant by the powers that be, because electric distributors and generators can recover the reasonable and prudently incurred cost of complying from businesses and residential consumers. Predictably, the pain of the compliance costs is deferred, with a deadline of 2020-i.e., well after these brave statesmen have stepped aside for the next crop of ruling elites.

To follow up on this bit of legal wizardry, in October 2008 Act 129 became law. Act 129 requires the state’s utilities to not just stop power usage from rising, but to begin to cut power usage in 2011. There is no definitive, legislated means to reduce energy-consumer usage. Reduced power usage is simply up to the utilities, who are required to devise ways to have their consumers reduce their electric usage through energy efficiency and conservation plans.

This is the liberal version of a free market: You dream up a dictate that you wish were true, and then you freely try to make the dream a reality, whether possible or not. The downside for the utilities is that if reductions in their customers’ usage aren’t realized to the state’s satisfaction, the utility can be fined up to $20 million in penalties. Expensive, yes, but acceptable to the law-makers because the utilities can pass these costs on to businesses and residential consumers.

Unfortunately, it seems like nobody alerted the governor to the fact that Pennsylvania’s abundant, clean-energy resource isn’t the intermittently spinning windmill eyesores now atop the once beautiful rolling hills of its Somerset County. Pennsylvania has an abundant supply of natural gas locked up in the geology of the Marcellus Shale, thousands of feet below two-thirds of its land surface.

The Marcellus Shale natural gas resource is readily available for use for the entire nation’s energy independence and security; estimates are that there is as much as 516 trillion cubic feet of Marcellus Natural Gas. That is enough natural gas to serve the entire needs of the nation for well over 15 years, and at the current National Gas Consumption Rate.

The Marcellus Shale gas development can be a great relief to Pennsylvania’s rural land owners, many of whom are farmers and have difficulties getting by even when times are good. Lease payments and royalties are a great benefit to rural Pennsylvanians. Many direct jobs in drilling, site preparations, pipelines, etc., and all the supporting jobs of natural gas development follow as development moves forward. The Marcellus Shale natural gas development benefits not only Pennsylvania’s citizens, but the entire country.

The Pennsylvania example of liberal policies and approaches to green energy will hopefully come to an end in the near term. Until then, natural-gas development creeps forward in the face of the Pennsylvania governor’s dictate of green energy.

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  • noelfitz

    This is interesting. Would Mr Smith like to expand on why solar energy is not economically viable?

  • gracewildhack

    I think Mr. Robert T. Smith would not be enjoying life quite so much if he were living next door to a natural gas extraction site, or, for that matter, to heavy duty power lines….

  • SeanReynoldsNZ

    Hi Noel,

    The figure that you would be interested in looking at is the Levelised Energy Cost. What you may also find to be of interest is the Australia’s Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation or CSIRO has determined that solar energy sources are also unviable here, in one of the nations with the world’s largest amount of annual sunshine. It would be cheaper to build, operate, and maintain nuclear power plants in Australia than it would be for any solar-thermal scheme, and it completely blows the cost of photvoltaics out of the water. Not only that, but coal and nuclear power can supply energy around the clock whereas solar cannot do that for obvious reasons. You can only get solar energy when the sun is shining. The reference is:

    One of the things that made an impression on me at World Youth Day in Sydney Australia in 2008 was that when it got to late at night, there was still sufficient generation to allow all the office block lights in the Sydney CBD to be on. Now, while that is a serious waste of power, it made a stark contrast to the almost total blackout in Auckland, New Zealand that was happening at the same time. New Zealand gets roughly 75% of its annual energy supplies from renewable resources, especially hydro-electric. New Zealand is also a world leader in geothermal energy, which is becoming more significant there. And there are constant water shortages in the catchments that supply the hydro-electric stations.

    My point is really this: First of all, why do you think God put the coal, natural gas, and oil in the ground if he didn’t intend for it to be used? Second, I do believe that we need to do further research into renewable energy resources to bring the cost down as we still only have limited fossil fuel reserves. I am a strong proponent of research into the use of algae to create the oil needed to make biodiesel in a way that removes the necessity of the fuel vs food debate. We need to look at what can be done to reduce the total cost of ownership of renewable energy resources.

    But I will say this: If solar power cannot currently be economically justified in a country with the amount of sunshine that Australia has, then I doubt that it is economically viable in any country anywhere in the world. I know people at my place of work who are looking into having photovoltaics installed on their house, but even there, they are looking at 10 years or longer to get payback on their investment as opposed to buying coal-generated electricity from the state grid. Where the power company subsidising the photovoltaics hopes to make their money is in selling carbon credits. (Go check out the inventors of the carbon market too: a company called Enron). So what you need to realise is that this whole thing at the moment is a money-grabbing scam.

  • terrygeorge

    hmm, I live in PA and of course the media doesn’t report on this at all…
    people from seattle winters and from england come to pa and say they can’t stand it bc it is so cloudy all the time. my very green sister and brother-in-law have strongly dissuaded me from attempting either a household wind or solar generation system bc they are not viable here. they also argue that the alternative energies are less viable bc power companies have arrangements with the gov which favor them, no details on that
    I also live close to somerset and I think the windmills add to the beauty
    surely it will take further research and useage to advance the alternarive energy source technologies to make them more competitive. seems worth investing in for long term. can’t just impose artificial deadlines but doing so may provide incentives to get power companies cooperating with that. of course only the large ones could handle the fines, so this green imposition would eliminate fair competition…
    imposed reductions in energy usage sounds very communistic for me. i hope people are getting enough of a dose of that to begin to reject it.
    of course there are even better reasons to reject rendell and democrats. hard to believe that the coal miners unions would keep supporting them, history i suppose at best. now why would so many catholic authorities keep supporting the out-of-control unions who have devastated the economy and are creating a two tiered class system in the usa and support the pro-abortion politicians?

  • goral

    Why should we use the resources that God put into the earth for us when we could come up with something better. We can do very well without Him or her. We have wind and solar and since we’re green atheists we don’t believe that He’s there anyway.
    We must once again regain power. The people know that our economic model doesn’t work so we’ll put forth, no, insist, no! mandate, No! force an energy model on them that will make them see red, errr, green!

    carbon copy commie