May 3, 2013
By Marie Cusick, StateImpact Pennsylvania & Tom Prigg, The Allegheny Front
A pair of bills moving through the state legislature aim to give consumers more access to Pennsylvania’s abundant natural gas reserves.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) is the primary sponsor of Senate Bills 738 and 739. Although he lives in the midst of the Marcellus Shale drilling, he doesn’t have the option of natural gas service at his own home.
“Pennsylvania has one of the largest gas deposits in the world and the citizens can’t take advantage of it,” Yaw told StateImpact PA.
Both bills were approved by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committee this week. Yaw chairs the committee and said he hopes they come up for a vote in the full chamber by next month.
Senate Bill 738, known as the Natural Gas Consumer Access Act, promotes the extension of gas lines to customers who would bear the cost themselves, over time. It requires natural gas utilities to submit a three-year plan to the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) for expansion projects to increase service.
Senate Bill 739 amends a 2008 law to promote alternative energy. The measure would shift $15 million out of a fund designed to promote high-efficiency or “green” buildings and use it instead for grants to help expand natural gas services to schools, hospitals, and small businesses.
This latter bill has prompted backlash, according to reporting by The Allegheny Front.
The reallocation suggested would reduce the $25 million fund originally set aside for green buildings to $10 million.
“We are fiercely opposed to the reallocation of funds, and we don’t think it’s a viable decision. That money was set aside for energy efficiency and conservation," Aurora Sharrard, vice president of innovation for Green Building Alliance told The Allegheny Front.
But Adam Pankake, executive director of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, told The Allegheny Front that there was no ill intent to reallocate from the green fund. “We are looking at areas to use money for gas extensions and this was a pot of money that had not been used,” Pankake said.
Sharrard said that several obstacles made it difficult for people to access those funds, “The way it was originally structured, there were a lot of requirements that projects had to go through to access the funds ... and that hurdle was too high for almost every project.”
However, changes to remove some of these barriers were made in January, which could prompt more small business and individuals to access the funds if they are upheld, Sharrard said. "It’s our hope and expectation that more people will take advantage of that $25 million now that hurdle has been reduced."