Rendell buys Kate’s windmills

Columnist : Albert Paschall

I visited this pal of mine in Harrisburg last week and he had one of the biggest Christmas trees I’ve ever seen. It must have been 10 feet high and probably had 1,000 lights on it. I’ll bet the one in the Governor’s mansion isn’t as big and that’s good. Because the way all of our electric bills are going up we don’t want the state wasting too much energy.

Two weeks ago the Governor’s environmental secretary Kathleen McGinty got behind something called Alternative Energy Portfolio Legislation (AEPS). In the final days of the legislative session AEPS blew through the General Assembly creating one of the biggest utility cost increases in state history.

Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio law requires the state’s major electric suppliers to switch at least 20% of their energy sources to alternatives like windmills over the next 10 years. Strong objections to the bill surfaced from the state’s electric utilities until the Rendell Administration agreed that the utilities could pass the cost of the windmills on to customers. In addition to normal rate increases the utilities will be allowed to add up to 18% to electric bills in Pennsylvania over the next 10 years.

So folks with big Christmas trees with lots of lights are just going to pay a few more cents a day to keep the holidays glowing. People with big factories with lots of employees are going to spend a few thousand dollars more a year, an estimated $200 million over the next ten years, and they’re going to be groaning.

It’s a great time for Pennsylvania to add $200 million to the cost of doing business in the state. The same week the bill passed Forbes magazine ranked Pennsylvania 45th in its annual economic freedom index. The index ranked The Commonwealth’s business environment sixth from the bottom in America based on 100 characteristics including regulatory climate and energy costs.

Secretary McGinty’s backing of the bill is easy to understand. Her environmental radicalism is rooted in her work as an assistant to former Vice President Al Gore. Under his direction she created the first White House Office on Environmental Policy. She came to the Rendell Administration from an international conglomerate called Natsource. Natsource has been very successful in negotiating international alternative energy contracts. Politics and money are not strangers in the state capital.

But critics of the legislation wonder about Rendell’s backing of the bill. The Governor has maintained a strange kind of laissez-faire with the state’s businesses. Unlike his last Democratic predecessor Bob Casey who was viewed with genuine disdain in business circles, Rendell seems to be liked. He’s been known to joke: “some of my best friends are in business.”

So why did Ed Rendell buy Kate McGinty’s windmills? In the second place he’s likable Ed, in the first place he’s Democrat Rendell and politically he’s not known for tilting at any windmills. He’s shrewd enough to know that if he doesn’t get some electricity into the 2006 US Senate race soon he’s got no hope of short circuiting Rick Santorum. Now he has a fresh young face, with a record liberals will love and a whole new industry in Pennsylvania to back her candidacy. Enjoy paying for your neighborhood’s new windmills. Someday maybe we could get some of the money back selling ads on them. Big posters that say “McGinty for US Senate.”

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.

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