PA’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.

— Robert T. Smith is an environmental scientist who spends his days enjoying life and the pursuit of happiness with his family. He has guest lectured at Grove City College and is a guest commentator for The Center for Vision & Values.