Pa. can show leadership in the new energy era — Without joining RGGI | Opinion

A Marcellus shale natural gas well in Jackson Twp., Butler County, Pa. Photo by WCN 24/7 for Flickr Commons

By Joyce Turkaly

A March 18 Capital-Star op-ed by the Clean Air Council paints an optimistic scenario regarding Pennsylvania’s joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI),the carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program among 10 eastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont).

The CAC makes disingenuous statements about numerous issues to support its opinion that reliance on Pennsylvania’s abundant “fracked gas” is not a viable route to maintaining Pennsylvania’s historical role as an energy leader.

While CAC acknowledges “Pennsylvania’s century of energy industry leadership . . . built by unprecedented innovation, strong public support and determined hard work,” it ignores that same leadership Pennsylvania has shown in the new energy era.

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The Clean Air Council claims RGGI reduces CO2 emissions while generating economic growth, but Pennsylvania has made more progress reducing CO2 than any other RGGI state, while our electricity bills are 50 percent lower than they were 10 years ago, and RGGI states have failed to achieve mass installation of renewable generation.

Pennsylvania has shown leadership in the new energy era beginning with the deregulation of retail electricity generation (1996) and natural gas supply (1999) marketplaces, and continuing with the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (2004) and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (2008).

These initiatives, along with FERC orders and the federal Clean Air Act, have all contributed to better Pennsylvania’s air quality while also enabling development of “a diverse mix of generation with enough available capacity to meet electricity demand now and for the foreseeable future,” according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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Indeed, Pennsylvania is the nation’s number-one exporter of electricity to other states and has reduced per-capita carbon emissions from the state’s power plants by 40 percent between 2007-2017, thanks in large part to our abundance of natural gas.

On the other hand, a fact-based assessment of the impact of RGGI’s CO2 tax program shows it would lead to higher electricity prices in Pennsylvania, the closure of multiple power plants and the loss of thousands of jobs, and the transfer of Pennsylvania’s lower cost electric generation to states to our west and south –  all without providing environmental benefits significantly better than Pennsylvania already enjoys.

RGGI consumers have experienced higher electricity prices; according to the EIA, residential consumers in six  New England states paid an average of 20.72¢/kilowatt hour (kWh) for electricity in January 2019.  By comparison, Pennsylvania’s residents paid 13.96¢/kWh.

The same applies to the average rates paid by all electricity customers in those states, with New England’s paying 17.56¢/kWh and Pennsylvania’s only 10.06¢/kWh.

Under RGGI, market forces will cause low-cost electricity generation to move from Pennsylvania to states like Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, all with coal and natural gas reserves, negating the environmental benefit to Pennsylvania as emissions are carried here by prevailing winds.

And because energy is the number one input in manufacturing, Pennsylvania’s sudden loss of low-cost electric generation under RGGI would also reverse Pennsylvania’s trajectory to attract more family-sustaining manufacturing jobs.

RGGI states’ emissions during 2007-2017 fell the same as Pennsylvania’s when adjusted for the emissions those states merely exported to net energy-producing states like Pennsylvania that generated the electricity their consumers demanded.

RGGI participating states that were not importing more electricity in 2018 have CO2 emissions that have either increased over 2015 levels or have been reduced by a far less percentage than the reductions already achieved here.

So why does Pennsylvania need a cap and trade tax disguised as mandated purchases of CO2 allowances that will drive up the cost of most of Pennsylvania’s electric generation?  The fact is we don’t.

One of CAC’s visions is when the Mid-Atlantic “region creates virtually no waste.”

The council’s promotion of solar, wind and nuclear generation contradicts this vision, ignoring the issues surrounding disposal of the waste products generated in producing solar panels and wind turbines, as well as the disposal of the panels and turbine blades themselves, along with the persistent problem of managing nuclear waste.

Real leadership is making decisions based on facts.

The facts show Pennsylvania has shown, and continues to show, real leadership in the new energy era, and that Pennsylvania is unlike the other RGGI states, having reduced emissions significantly while also reducing consumers’ electricity costs.

The RGGI states would like to have the lower cost electricity and environmental benefits Pennsylvania has achieved, if they could, but they can’t because they are net electricity importers burdened with the significant costs of participating in RGGI.

Joyce Turkaly is director of Natural Gas Market Development for the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, an industry trade group based in Wexford, Pa.