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Natural Gas 4 Us: RGGI Blowing in the Cold Wind

On the energy front as another cold front blows through the area Pennsylvania’s enlightened Governor Wolf continues to trumpet the Reduced Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). He looks eastward seeking the state to align with New York, New Jersey and New England states. These states are all electric energy importers and have some of the highest utility prices in the United States. Pennsylvania unlike all the other states in RGGI is an exporter of electricity to neighboring states. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) only Texas and Florida produced more electricity than Pennsylvania in 2020. In fact Pennsylvania sent more electricity to neighboring states than any other state.

Governor Wolf heralds his RGGI initiative as taxing fossil fuels producers ignoring the fact that the carbon fees ultimately will be passed on to we the consumer. He ignores the facts that the ongoing transition from coal fired power plants to electric generation from clean natural gas plants has greatly reduced the carbon footprint and methane emissions of the state. Joining RGGI is absolutely inflationary. It will raise electric bills across the state to support the fees. A likely related consequence will be less available power to export creating competitive demand for power from the importing states increasing the cost to all. To supplant the lower cost gas power with renewables will demand artificial support and subsidies from the government again indirectly we the taxpayers.

As the Governor oversimplifies the switch to renewables he overlooks that again according to the EIA Pennsylvania increased in the last ten years renewable electric generation by a nominal one percent from 3 % to 4 %. This occurred given government mandated use and various support programs including tax incentives, with costs again born by ultimately Pennsylvania taxpayers. Natural gas generation in the same ten years went from 15% to almost 50%. It should also be noted during the recent prolonged cold weather period in the state gas fired power plants maintained the generation of reliable and consistent power delivery at affordable prices. The enlightened governor insistence that wind, solar, and bio mass will be as predictable and sustaining is without merit. Again solar and wind over the last ten years with subsidies and government manipulation increased by one percent. To think Pennsylvania can move from efficient and clean natural gas plants to a hodgepodge of solar arrays, wind farms, and bio mass generation relying on natural forces and huge amounts of storage batteries maybe somewhat misguided. The only way this conglomeration materializes in any significant share of the market is with substantial infusion of capital that can only occur with the guarantee of higher rates and government support and subsidies. How does any of this make sense, literally taking Pennsylvania the only state of the so called RGGI eleven that has electric and natural gas energy independence, and joining with states who seek to proliferate their higher costs and questionable goals of green washing renewables, without realistic expectations and or outcome. Perhaps it would be far better to look west and ally with Ohio and West Virginia to develop a longer range energy strategy that is aligned with Pennsylvania strengths and potential to support realistic economic and environmental goals.

Unfortunately the governor most likely aligns himself with New York Governor Kathy Hochul and her recent announcement supporting legislation that institutes a statewide ban in the Empire State on the use of natural gas in all new buildings beginning in 2027. In the building sector all indicators project going totally electric is more expensive in upfront construction costs as well as higher life cycle operating costs. Inflation is indeed currently on everyone minds with some asking the hard questions: who pays for all these supposed improvements, and in the larger context how do we collectively work for constructive and effective energy resource development in the Keystone State. Both New York and Pennsylvania are electing governors in November with the future direction of energy policies in the balance. In the interim in Pennsylvania may the State legislature be resolute and override Wolf’s veto delaying his executive action, leaving Pennsylvania independent and outside the RGGI orbit.

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