Here’s how Pa.’s clean energy businesses are poised to grow a local energy economy | Opinion

Transmission lines in Louisa County, Va. (Photo by Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

By Paul Spiegel

For more than a decade, Pennsylvania has sat on the sidelines as neighboring states enjoy the benefits of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Under this program, our neighboring states have realized economic growth, cleaner air, and diversified energy options that deliver benefits to all energy customers. It’s a market-based approach that works for everyone and grows the local economy.

As a clean energy company doing business in Pennsylvania, we know that the time to bring these benefits to the Commonwealth is now.

The Department of Environmental Protection is about to release its final rule that incorporates Pennsylvania to the program.

If we act now, we have a chance to claim those benefits for our residents and businesses. Under RGGI, Pennsylvania’s largest power plants would buy allowances equal to the amount of carbon they emit. Those payments would then be invested into forward-looking industries that grow quickly, reliably, and locally.

In its first year alone, RGGI is expected to create nearly 30,000 jobs and generate between $300 million and $500 million in proceeds.

This infusion of RGGI funds would accelerate Pennsylvania’s clean energy economy; practically speaking, this means creating opportunities for small businesses, establishing career retraining programs for transition communities, generating family-sustaining jobs, and offering robust and accessible energy-saving programs that lower utility bills for business and residential customers across the Commonwealth.

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We all saw what happened in Texas when its grid failed and people were struggling without heat or electricity. In Pennsylvania, proceeds directed to energy efficiency programs will further reduce emissions and lower demands on the electric grid, making it more reliable in the face of natural disasters and extreme storm events.

What’s more, energy efficiency is an economic powerhouse: in 2019, nearly 70,000 Pennsylvanians were employed by companies manufacturing high-efficiency products, designing state of the art buildings, retrofitting homes and businesses, and developing and installing cutting-edge energy management software.

According to a report by E2, energy efficiency has historically been the biggest, fastest-growing energy sector in the US, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of our job-creation potential. Bolstered by RGGI proceeds, energy efficiency has the capacity to power Pennsylvania’s economic recovery even as it reduces emissions and cleans our air.

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Yet, some special interests would keep Pennsylvanians waiting for these urgently-needed benefits — perhaps indefinitely.

Businesses across the clean energy sector are standing up to voice our support for the process to unfold as intended, allowing Pennsylvania to begin enjoying the benefits of RGGI.

When it comes to supporting RGGI, clean energy businesses are in good company: in a recent poll, more than 70% of Pennsylvanians supported capping power plant pollution.

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In late 2020, the DEP held ten virtual public hearings, and tens of thousands chimed in via phone or computer to testify in support of the program.

I was one of these testifiers, and I heard from dozens of people struggling with utility bills and calling for the DEP to join RGGI in a way that creates local family-sustaining jobs, lowers energy bills for residents and businesses, and helps reduce air pollution.

In this time of economic hardship and uncertainty, we call on our leaders to quickly act in our best interests. Pennsylvania’s communities, businesses, and workers can’t afford to wait for this relief. The time to act boldly is now.

Paul Spiegel, P.E., LEED AP, is the president of Practical Energy Solutions in West Chester, Pa.