News Analysis: A Push For More Alternative Energy in Pennsylvania

Governor Ed Rendell wants state legislators to get behind bills that would increase Pennsylvania's use of alternative energy. The Allegheny Front's Ann Murray joins host Jennifer Szweda Jordan to talk about who's backing those bills, and a federal study that says wider use of wind energy will be possible, but really expensive.

Read the transcript »Close the Transcript

Transcript

Open: Governor Ed Rendell wants state legislators to get behind bills that would increase Pennsylvania's use of alternative energy. The Allegheny Frontís †Ann Murray joins host Jennifer Szweda Jordan to talk about who's backing those bills, and a federal study that says wider use of wind energy will be possible -- but really expensive.

J: †A state alternative energy standard is already in place here. What's mandated now?

A: In 2004 the state legislature passed a law that set up one of the first alternative energy standards in a coal producing state. The law said that qualified power sources must provide 18% of the state's electricity by 2020.

J: What does "qualified power sources" mean?

A: There are two groups of energy technologies that are part of this law.† Tier one includes wind, solar, small hydropower, coal mine methane and biomass. Under existing law, by 2020 utilities have to generate 8% of†the state's electricity using these technologies.††Less than one percent needs to come from solar.

J: What's in the second group?

A: Waste coal, large hydropower, municipal solid waste and coal gasification.

J: The second group includes some pretty controversial ways of producing energy, doesn't it?

A: Yes.† Not everyone believes that technologies in this group are environmentally safe.

J: Would the bills that are before the state house and Senate now put more emphasis on renewable energy technologies?

A:† These bills would raise the overall requirement for the use of renewable energy to 15% from 8% and increase the requirement for solar by a couple percentage points. These increases would have to be in place in the next 14 years.

J: Which would extend the standard by four years.

A: Right.

J: These bills also call for the use of carbon capture and storage, another controversial technology. Why does the Rendell administration want to include this so-called "clean coal technology" in the state's energy portfolio?

A: The state has gone out of its way to emphasize that coal is still an important energy source in Pennsylvania and† using technologies† will make coal less polluting.

J: These bills have gotten support from environmental groups. How does the inclusion of carbon capture and storage sit with them?

A: Carbon Capture and storage technologies aren't universally loved by environmental groups. I talked with Heather Sage with PennFuture. She says her group is supportive of the measure that would enable carbon capture and sequestration.

SAGE: We don't have time to arrive at a perfect solution. Here in Pennsylvania, we have to do whatever we can to mitigate carbon. CCS is one of those approaches.

J: Even though proponents say there are environmental consequences connected to the passage of these bills, the Rendell administration, Pennfuture and other groups say these bills aren't strictly environmental measures.

A: The administration believes an increase in the use of renewable energy would bring more jobs into the state.

J: Has that been true so far even with lower 2004 standards?

A: Jobs in the solar and wind energies - particularly with manufacturing - have increased here since 2004 but not with the speed of other states like New Jersey and Maryland.

J: Why?

A: Proponents† of the bills say that since 2004, these other states have passed higher standards than Pennsylvania so†wind and solar industries have gravitated those states.

J: But both the state Democratic and Republican caucuses are against raising the standards. How come?

A: Some of these legislators are worried that an increase in the alternative energy standard will increase the cost of electricity at a time when Pennsylvanians are struggling with a down economy. Heather Sage contends that the bills are getting broader legislative support and that greater use of renewable energy sources would bring down electricity costs.

SAGE: It just makes sense if you've got wind or solar, then there are no fuel costs. So it isn't depending on† fluctuating fuel sources like coal or natural gas that increases as the supply diminishes.

J: There is a new study out by the federal government that says that wind energy could expand and still provide stable output of electricity but it would cost us much more in electricity bills.

A: This study was done by the US Energy Department.†It says wind could replace coal and natural gas for 20 to 30% of the electricity used in the eastern US by 2024. But it would mean a reorganization of the power grid and a big increase in costs.†But the Energy Department says the bigger problems would be getting the public to accept building additional transmission lines and coming up with sites for wind farms. And unless prices are established for carbon trading, there wouldn't be a significant drop in CO2.

J: Thanks, Ann.

A: You're welcome.