Renewable Energy Bill Takes Shape in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee took an important step toward ensuring that Pennsylvanians will join the citizens of a growing number of other states that require their electric utilities to use a small percentage of renewable energy resources like solar, wind, small hydropower and biomass.

By unanimous vote, the Committee amended and then approved the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (SB 1030) that was introduced by Senator Edwin B. Erickson (R- Delaware and Chester) and 14 other senators, according to PennFuture, a statewide environmental organization. The amended bill reflects the work of Senator Erickson, Senator Raphael J. Musto, and Senator Mary Jo White, who chairs the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. The amended SB 1030 calls for energy companies that sell electricity in Pennsylvania to provide 12 percent of their power from renewable resources in 15 years. “…(the bill) will drive the Commonwealth to a 21st century energy system,” PennFuture said in a statement. “It will grow our economy and provide good jobs that stay here.” The clean electricity bill creates two categories of resources that qualify as alternative energy. Tier One resources include those typically considered true renewable – solar, wind, geothermal, low-impact hydropower, fuel cells, and methane created by biological processes. Methane that escapes from coal mines, a powerful cause of global warming, is also included in Tier One. Energy companies would be required to provide at least 1.5 percent of their power from these resources in the first year of the new law and gradually increase the percentage until it reaches 12 percent in 15 years. Tier Two resources would include energy efficiency, technologies and management practices that shift electric use from periods of high demand to periods of low demand, small-scale power plants that use alternative energy sources and coal waste. Any plants using coal waste for fuel would be required to use equipment to reduce pollution. Energy suppliers would be required to provide a little more than 2 percent of their power from these resources in the first year increasing gradually to 3 percent in 11 years. The full Senate and House of Representatives would have to come to a final agreement on the bill before it could be sent to the Governor’s desk. PennFuture believes the bill would be signed into law if it makes it that far. In 2002, coal-fired power plants provided 55.7 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity, and nuclear power generated 37.2 percent. Renewable energy accounted for only 1.3 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity. Senate Bill 1030 will substantially boost electricity from renewable and alternative technologies in an orderly manner. The Community Foundation of the Alleghenies released a report looking at how a power shift to renewable resources with a two-tiered system would affect the price and supply of electricity. The study found that building renewable energy power plants would create 3,500 more jobs and an economic impact of US$7 billion. That finding mirrors several other studies, including one by the Union of Concerned Scientists released earlier this year. But another crucial finding was that increasing renewable electricity would actually lower residential, commercial and industrial electric bills by an overall amount of $2.7 billion dollars. An average household would save about $8.50 a year, a commercial business would save about $58 and an industrial customer would save almost $1400 per year. Generating more electricity from renewable resources increases the overall supply of electricity – easing the demand on natural gas, resulting in lower prices. It’s a classic supply-and demand-scenario. In addition, an energy system with a variety of resources producing electricity is more reliable than one that relies on just one or two fuel sources. Shortages and disruptions in supplies of other fuels could be offset by the new power coming from reliable wind, solar, geothermal and landfill methane supplies. “Now add the public health benefits of cleaner air to this mix as less ozone smog, soot and mercury find their way into our air and water – immediately improving the health of one million Pennsylvanians who have respiratory problems – and you have reasons galore to boost cleaner and renewable energy,” PennFuture said.
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