by Eric Epstein
Sometimes one must go to the past to rescue the future.
This is one of those times.
Discussions, debates, and diatribes relating to global warming and the development of a green economy invariably fail to account for the dark underbelly and economic burden associated with coal and nuclear energy.
Pennsylvania has paid a heavy price for fueling the industrial revolution: 51,483 people have died from mining accidents, and 2,400 miles of Pennsylvania’s waters have been polluted from coal mine drain off.
By the late 1950s acid rain’s harmful footprint was detectable throughout Penns Woods, and in 1986 Elk County recorded the most concentrated acid rain figures in the nation. Pennsylvania has continued to receive more acid rain than any other state, damaging its natural resources, citizens, and economy.
In the 1970s, recession, stagflation and two Arab oil embargoes, propelled nuclear energy to the front of the subsidy trough. Cost overruns, nuclear waste, water use, and lessons learned from the coal era were put aside to embrace the magic energy bullet: nuclear power.
However, the worst accident in US commercial nuclear power history began on March 28, 1979 at Three Mile Island when the plant suffered a core melt down. Rate payers and taxpayers have doled out $2 billion for a plant that operated 120 days, and remains a high-level radioactive waste site in the middle of the Susquehanna River.
With the arrival of deregulation, Pennsylvania rate payers were left holding the bag on $8.5 billion in cost overruns for energy “too cheap meter” at the Limerick and Susquehanna nuclear generating stations.
Finally, in 2002 the US government announced a plan to reduce greenhouse gas intensity (the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output) by 18% over the next 10 years.
Pennsylvania, a traditional coal and nuclear state, had virtually no contributions for clean, green or alternative energy sources at the turn of the century. In fact, Pennsylvania’s renewable energy portfolio was limited to hydro power – most of which was exported out of state.
It’s past time to move Pennsylvania’s economy and environmental stewardship into the 21st century.
Rep. Eugene DePasquale has proposed to expand the green economy in Pennsylvania by introducing bipartisan legislation that would significantly boost the amount of energy in Pennsylvania derived from cleaner energy sources. The legislation would strengthen the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act of 2004 by requiring 28% of Pennsylvania’s energy come from clean sources by 2024.
The current clean energy requirement is 18% by 2020. The proposed legislation would nearly double the share of energy that must come from the cleanest sources by requiring 15% of energy to be derived from wind, low-impact hydro, geothermal, methane gas, fuel cells, biomass energy, and solar.
Unlike the rate shock caused by deregulation, consumers would be protected in this legislation by requiring the state Public Utility Commission to delay the alternative energy requirements by the utilities if it determines the cost of compliance is too high or there isn’t enough alternative energy ready for the grid.
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