September 21, 2015
Comment on the Pennsylvania Clean Power Plan
There is no more serious or urgent issue facing us. I speak on behalf of those who have no voice in this matter but who will be affected grievously by the decisions we make -the unborn children of the next generation, and the living earth that supports all life as we know it.
System problem needs system solutions
Our economy is based on extracting resources to be burned for fuel and it operates on a regional basis. Finding solutions would be most productive in a regional setting, collaborating with economic districts established through trading and production patterns over many years, for example the Power of 32 Region, for which a Regional Energy Flow has been established. (enclosed as Attachment A.)
Coal and natural gas production and exports account for 43% of the energy produced in this region; and 41% is wasted as lost energy from electricity generation and internal combustion engines in transportation. Only 15% of the energy produced in the region is used for work: transportation, residential, commercial and industrial energy use. Only 6% of the energy used in the region comes from renewable resources. BUT, this this is about half of the energy we actually use to do work!
The energy system is designed around the production and use of fossil fuels. The majority of what is produced leaves the region for use in other locations. That means that the profits for the sale of extracted resources from Pennsylvania go out of the economy, with little remaining in the commonwealth in the form of tax payments or royalties; the profits go to private companies. They leave behind the acid mine drainage that has ruined over 3,000 streams in Pennsylvania, land subsidence, devastated landscapes that remain barren for generations from longwall and mountaintop removal of coal, the deep deposits of toxic materials lurking for incursion into the groundwater, and the devastation of mined out communities. Even in dense residential areas communities such as Churchill are threatened with industrial gas development with no recourse to protect residences, schools, cultural and historic areas, or sensitive places such as watersheds. The fossil bonanza has enriched a few and left the consequences to be paid on the public ledger, often a generation removed from the profiteers.
Leadership position in energy – innovation
We have the ability to offer leadership and innovation in the approach to modernizing and rebuilding our power system. If we establish a goal to use as much renewable and regenerative energy as possible, and fill in the gaps with natural gas bridging to bio-gas, we can craft a Clean Power Plan for Pennsylvania that empowers new industries, new investments and crafts a way forward that can sustain a diverse and robust economy. First, raise the Renewable Energy Portfolio standard from 9% to 50% as a 2030 goal. Establish a State Investment Tax Credit to supplement the federal incentives, and make the Green Energy Loan Fund available to homeowners as well as to commercial establishments. Allow Virtual Net Metering for community solar installations to promote shared use in suitable locations such as schools, churches, and municipal buildings. Establish model zoning guidelines to help communities set out the rules for maximum use of solar and wind systems. The City of Pittsburgh Zoning Overlay for renewable and energy efficient development may provide a model.
Take note of the innovations adopted at the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and the guidance available from the Innovation Workplace at Carnegie Mellon University. Buildings can become generators of energy as well as users, with net positive results for the community.
Existing sources of natural gas can act as bridging fuels in the truest sense of the word. Investment in bio-gas from anaerobic digestion of municipal waste and sewer wastes can provide non-fossil based methane as a fuel. This process recognized and broadly used in Germany and Korea can support industrial applications and act as base load support for renewable energy in distributed sources. Investment and linking to technologies that do not burn gas, but use it in chemical power production mode, such as in fuel cells, can provide efficient energy supplies without the burden of carbon dioxide at the levels produced from burning methane for electricity production. (See Fuel Cell Energy, Inc. of Danbury Connecticut, which has many suppliers of parts in Pittsburgh www.fuelcellenergy.com)
Innovations using direct current micro-grid systems can increase energy efficiency at the point of use. Models of how to integrate these more efficient systems into the existing grid are in pilot mode at the Center for Energy Innovation. The regulatory system for allocating costs and resources needs to be re-visited in light of the shifts in technology from centralized large generation operations to resources integrating generation and use into the same locations. The PUC should convene a generic investigation to explore and conduct pilot trials of new utility paradigm structures that optimize the use of renewable and sustainable energy systems.
Simply shifting our electric power supply from coal to natural gas is not a true solution. It just kicks the can down the road to the next generation.
Attention to the just transition: workers, smooth integration of technologies.
Moving our energy system from a fossil base to a renewable base will require transitions. It is instructive to examine some of the issues that emerge from transitions that have been successful in the past. Moving from the horse drawn buggy to the internal combustion driven automobile occurred over a period of 15 to 20 years. In that time, the process was expedited by paving the roads, making rules for licensing vehicles and drivers to generate a revenue stream to pay for the roads, developed a fuel supply and delivery system. We set up a whole supply chain for the manufacture sale and distribution of vehicles.
The renewable energy system has struggled to become established, and now has reached a condition where the technical capability is stable, but the rules are different in each state, the business conditions of tax incentives and investment conditions are variable and uncertain, and the regulatory interface takes place in a hostile environment. Much of this comes from the fears and concerns of those displaced from the fossil industries, especially the workers. Miners, oil field workers, and the suppliers and supporters of the energy system as it is today have a vested interest in keeping the same process in place. An energy plan to move to a system that places a higher priority on environmental impact must address the displacement of workers.
A fair and just transition must recognize the needs of the fossil industry workforce. Transitions here must include re-deployment of the workforce, re-training and redress of the needs of workers for assurance in pensions and benefits earned through long years of service. The unions have played a huge role in establishing the rights and needs of workers, enriching the entire middle class, including non-union workers. It is essential to maintain the standards for working people in transition times. Communities depend on the stability and resilience of the work force. Embracing innovation can allow significant improvements in working conditions and in job opportunities. Jobs in energy efficiency infrastructure and renewable energy systems are not easily shipped offshore.
“Made in Pennsylvania” standards for renewable energy systems should be part of the 2030 goal for the Clean Power Plan. Re-deploying the workforce to do those jobs here should be a priority. We can replace the export of raw fossil fuels with the export of manufactured parts and systems for solar and wind energy systems, grid technology and software, and innovations in building materials and construction practices. The skills of today’s workforce are transferrable. The work ethic and the production system expertise of long tradition in Pittsburgh can be harnessed to expedite and optimize the transition to a renewable energy system. If it is not the job of the EPA or the DEP to “take care of the workers,” then, the Commonwealth should establish a parallel planning process to address these serious issues. Revamping our entire energy system cannot happen in a vacuum.
We are experiencing a time of transition driven by the constraints of the natural world. The laws of nature are not negotiable. As we burn fossil fuels, we release sequestered carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Over the last 50 years, the process has so accelerated that measurable changes to the composition of the atmosphere, and sea water have been documented. The need for change is urgent, and the changes we see are irreversible in our time. The window of opportunity for adapting to the existing situation and securing a measure of stability forward is critical. We resist change, and we resist dramatic changes with arguments, denial, and predictions of dire results. However, if we do not address this process of burning fossil fuels in a despicably wasteful manner, using technology from the 1800’s, we bear the burden of condemning the next generation to a future with fewer options, and a more dire and deprived state of being.
The choices we face are not those of technology alone. They are choices of ethical values. We have the obligation to look forward and take responsibility to preserve the resources of the Earth for the next generation. We owe our children a planet with its life support system intact. Oxygen rich atmosphere, fresh water and fertile ground supporting a broad diversity of living things are the only way forward to assure the survival of life as we know it. We do not have the right to squander the future for the sake of short term profits or instant conveniences.
We can embrace the challenge of living within the laws of the natural world, in harmony with the regenerative bounty of the living Earth. The sun provides 23,000 times more energy than we can use each day. We need only to organize our efforts to capture the flow that falls on us instead of extracting and consuming what is sequestered in the mantle of the Earth.
Presented to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection “Listening Session” on the PA Clean Power Plan.