Plunging temperatures, higher prices: Why renewables could be the answer | Five for the Weekend

Unlike natural gas, clean energy sources do not suffer from wild price fluctuations, an advocate argues

November 20, 2021 6:30 am

Happy Weekend, All.
It’s Capital-Star Editor-in-Chief John L. Micek, subbing in for Associate Editor Cassie Miller, who’s taking some well-deserved time off. I’ll be your host this week and next for the Friday Five.

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, and the holiday season creeping up on us with astonishing speed, it won’t be too long now before we’re all breaking out the winter coats, and setting our thermometers higher (if some among us have not done that already).

Those plunging temperatures will also bring with them pricier utility bills (especially this year), since most of us get our heat and power from electrical and natural gas sources.

But as one environmental advocate argues, this also might be the time to give some serious thought to switching over to such renewable sources as wind and solar energy.

Why? The bottom line: clean energy sources do not suffer from wild price fluctuations, Mandy Warner, of the Environmental Defense Fundargues in a recent blog post.

Citing data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)Warner points out that households that “primarily use natural gas for space heating will spend an average of 30% more on heating this winter than last year.

That’s a big deal for Pennsylvania “where over half of households use natural gas to heat their homes, and much of Pennsylvania’s electricity is powered by natural gas-fired power plants, meaning even those who don’t use natural gas fuel directly for heating may still be affected by rising prices,” Warner writes.

Thus moving away from fossil fuels “is not only the healthier option, but the cheaper option in the long run. Pennsylvania’s move to link to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state program slashing climate pollution from power plants and investing in clean energy, offers opportunities to save consumers money,” she writes.

There’s more — the whole post is definitely worth your time and processor power to read as you ease into the pre-holiday weekend.

As always, your Top 5 Most-Read Stories of the week start below.

1. W.Pa. municipalities sue state to block PennDOT bridge tolling plan

Three municipalities in Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs are suing the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation over a $2 billion plan to pay for the replacement of nine bridges with future toll revenue.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Commonwealth Court on Thursday, asks for the court to block the tolling plan, and issue an injunction against the state accepting project bids because a board did not specifically consider or solicit feedback on each bridge the department now plans to rebuild.

The plan calls for paying for the construction and maintenance of the bridges, which are spread across the commonwealth, by tolling travelers for at least the next 30 years. The tolls would likely cost between $1 to $2 per car.

The suit was brought by South Fayette Township, Collier Township, and Bridgeville Borough in Allegheny County.

Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Luzerne, leaves a House committee hearing on public sector unions Monday, 11/15/21 (Screen Capture).

2. Dems stage walkout of House hearing on bills tightening public sector labor laws

Democratic lawmakers walked out of a House Republican-run committee hearing on public sector unions Monday, claiming the hearing’s focus was misplaced.

“This committee should be talking about ways to strengthen our workforce and getting people back to work,” Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Luzerne, said in brief remarks at the start of the hearing by the House Labor and Industry Committee, before leaving the committee room.

The meeting, organized by committee chairperson Rep. Jim Cox, R-Berks, featured testimony from Americans for Fair Treatment, a national group that supports placing extra restrictions on public sector unions, as well as the Fairness Center, a public interest law center that’s filed more than a dozen legal challenges against those unions.

Black Lives Matter protesters match down Harrisburg’s Front Street in response to the death of George Floyd, May 30, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

3. Bail funds help the poor get out of jail. Advocates say a Pa. House bill could shut them down

As the former head of the top national bail bonds industry group lobbies lawmakers, a bill that would treat nonprofits that free people from pre-trial detention the same as for-profit companies has quickly and quietly advanced in Harrisburg this month.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York, was introduced on Nov. 3 without a memo describing what it would do in plain-English terms.

The House Judiciary Committee sent the proposal to the full House last Tuesday, and it passed the full chamber 111-88 this Tuesday — a fast turnaround of just two weeks from the bill’s introduction to its approval.

The bill’s backers say that the nonprofits, known as bail funds, exist in a loophole in state law and should be registered and regulated in some way. But those who run the nonprofits say the bill is just an attempt to shut down a concentrated community effort to challenge mass incarceration.

In a statement to the Capital-Star on behalf of Pennsylvania’s eight nonprofit bail funds, Malik Neal, executive director of the Philadelphia Bail Fund, said the bill would not only impede their work, but also would prevent individuals, community groups, and churches from pitching in to aid incarcerated individuals on an ad hoc basis.

CHANTILLY, VA – NOVEMBER 18: A potential buyer tries out a gun which is displayed on an exhibitor’s table during the Nation’s Gun Show on November 18, 2016 at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The show is one of the largest in the area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

4. Pa. House sends permitless concealed carry bill to Wolf’s desk, who promises veto

A bill to allow all lawful gun owners in Pennsylvania over the age of 18 the right to carry a concealed firearm is on its way to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk after it passed the state House 107-92 after more than three-and-a-half hours of floor debate on Tuesday night.

The proposal, which would also remove a prohibition in state law on openly carrying firearms in Philadelphia, passed the state Senate 29-21 last week.

Wolf, a Democrat, has already promised to veto the proposal, and the GOP-controlled Legislature does not have the votes to override him.

However, Republicans and other conservative activists have been clear for months they wanted a vote on the bill, regardless of whether it would become law or not.

A veto, they’ve argued, would motivate their base ahead of the critical 2022 election when Republicans could flip the open governor’s seat. And the vote will also help gun rights activists identify moderate Republicans who are not strong enough on the issue. Wolf will leave office in January 2023, after serving the constitutional maximum of two, four-year terms.

Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam speaks at a press conference. Harrisburg, PA – February 17, 2021

5. Wolf admin denies legislative panel access to COVID death data, says it’s not a government agency

The Wolf administration has ruled that a six-decade-old legislative committee is not a government agency, blocking its efforts to access 100 redacted death certificates for a study of COVID-19 data reporting.

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, which sought the information, noted the administration’s ruling in a report it released this week.

The 12-member committee, split evenly among Democrats and Republicans, oversees a staff of 13 who study topics ranging from the dairy industry to plastic bag bans. Their studies are approved by floor votes in the Legislature, which currently is controlled by Republicans.

The state House unanimously initiated the study with a resolution in November 2020.

The resolution cited Department of Health data “anomalies, inaccuracies, statistical impossibilities and other reporting concerns” on COVID-19 testing and cases in nursing homes, among other issues.

“Residents of this Commonwealth need to have accurate and reliable COVID-19 data to make choices for their health, safety and security,” the resolution stated.

And that’s the week. See you all back here next week

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.