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Alternative Energy, Climate Change Bill Unveiled, Environmental Groups Opposed - Video Blog

A bipartisan group of House and Senate members introduced legislation endorsed by Gov. Rendell that wouldincrease Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard requirements on electric utilities and provide for the capture and sequestration of carbon, which ultimately contributes to combating climate change.
Reps. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Chris Ross (R-Chester), Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), Sen. Ted Erickson (R-Delaware), Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger and Steve Stroman from PennFuture attended the announcement.
At the same time, four major membership-based environmental groups announced they are opposing the legislation because it requires electricity to be generated with expensive technology-- carbon capture and sequestration-- which does not yet exist in commercial form.
The proposed legislation, to be introduced as House Bill 80 and Senate Bill 92,(not yet online -preliminary text released at the press conference) would:
-- increase Tier I requirements by 20 percent from 2021 through 2026. Tier I requirements are the amount of electricity that electric distribution companies must purchase from renewable sources;
-- increase the amount of electricity from solar photovoltaic panels that electricity companies must purchase and use to 3 percent by 2026;
-- require that 3 percent of energy purchased by electric distribution companies must come from coal fired power plants that use the latest technology to reduce emissions and can connect to carbon sequestration facilities; and
-- require Pennsylvania to develop, own and operate a carbon dioxide sequestration network to store captured carbon. (summary released at press conference)
"This legislation will put Pennsylvania at the forefront in the battle against climate change," Rep. Vitali said. "It will also create jobs."
Rep.Ross said the future of Pennsylvania and its electric power provision is really a bipartisan issue that everyone needs to deal with.
"We have seen a proliferation of renewable portfolio standards across the country, since we passed our standards in 2004," Rep. Ross said. "We need to update and extend our standards to encourage renewable energy companies to invest here in Pennsylvania."
“Finding a way to harvest traditional resources like coal in an environmentally friendly way, combined with investments in new energy technologies, is crucial to achieving energy independence for our nation,” Rep. Harper said. “A diverse energy supply that includes wind, solar and other clean energy strategies, also results in lower costs for consumers.”
“This is a great opportunity for Pennsylvania to be at the forefront of an innovative technology,” Rep. Harper said. “The state’s geological formations make this an ideal place to store carbon underground rather than release it into the environment. Once again, we have a chance to be a leader.”
Rep.Vitali said coal is a source of energy and a cornerstone of the economy in many parts of the state.
"But coal production is not environmentally friendly," he said. "New technology that provides for carbon reduced coal generation can put Pennsylvania at the forefront of an industry that is new and can provide for economic benefits across the state with the updating of current facilities and the construction of new facilities used to generate cleaner energy."
Sen.Erickson said that since the passage of Act 13 in 2004, the alternative energy portfolio standards legislation, the state has met great success in developing the economics of the issue.
"This today is an attempt to continue that and to put some certainty into the longevity of our approach," Sen. Erickson said.
The measures are supported by the administration, and Acting Secretary John Hanger said the Governor understands that the future of Pennsylvania is tied to energy.
"We need to make sure that Pennsylvania is not only a place where clean energy is used, but also a place where clean energy is produced," Acting Secretary Hanger said. "We're after, to put it simply, jobs. The alternative energy sector happens to be one of the parts of our economy, both the national economy and the world economy, that is growing, and growing rapidly. It's growing with wind, it's growing with solar. The world is going to have to come to a set of technologies that captures carbon and stores it in order to deal with the challenge of climate change."
Other supporters of the legislation include Reps. Eugene DePasquale (D-York) and Bryan Lentz (D-Delaware).

Environmental Groups Oppose Bill

PennEnvironment, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, Clean Air Council and Clean Water Actionannounced their opposition to the proposed legislation which would require the state to generate 3 percent of its electricity from power plants equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technology—an expensive technology that does not yet exist in commercial form.
This is the second major environmental proposal supported or proposed by the Rendell Administration in the last month that has attracted significant opposition from the state's environmental groups.
In December the PA Campaign for Clean Water, a coalition of more than 124 group, opposed plans by the Department of Environmental Protection to drop individual reviews of erosion and sedimentation and stormwater permits on new developments and for oil and gas well production. (12/29/08 PA Environment Digest)
“This legislation represents a dangerous case of putting a very expensive cart before the horse for Pennsylvania,” said Nathan Willcox, Energy & Clean Air Advocate with PennEnvironment. “Requiring a portion of the state’s electricity to come from carbon capture and sequestration facilities before such technology even exists in commercial form is a waste of state resources, and distracts us from the proven clean energy solutions that deserve the state’s support.”
“This bill requires the Commonwealth to assume all liability for geologic carbon storage, including
environmental and private property damage, as well as fatalities, in the event of a facility failure,” said Jeff Schmidt, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter. “Given the scientific uncertainties of geological sequestration, and the failure to provide a transparent site characterization process, these liability provisions represent an unacceptable threat to Pennsylvania,” he continued.
“The legislation proposes that Pennsylvania assume liability for any problems associated with this unproven technology. That is a raw deal for Pennsylvania taxpayers,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director of the Clean Air Council. “If taxpayers are going to subsidize energy projection, let’s make it for wind and solar energy.”
“If coal companies aren’t even sure this technology is viable, why are we promoting it? We know how to stop global warming—we should focus on proven strategies that work,” stated Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania State Director for Clean Water Action.
The groups did praise the proposed legislation’s call for an increase in the clean Tier 1 of Pennsylvania’s alternative energy standard, as well as an increase in the ‘carve-out’ specifically for solar power. The legislation would require that 20 percent of the state’s electricity come from cleaner sources including wind and solar power by 2026. The current Tier 1 standard for these resources stands at 8 percent.
But the groups pointed to two fatal flaws around the legislation’s focus on carbon capture and sequestration: the tremendous uncertainties around the feasibility and cost of CCS, and the diversion of resources from proven clean energy solutions like energy efficiency, and wind and solar power.
The laudable goal of CCS systems is to capture global warming pollution produced by power plants before it escapes into the atmosphere, and then permanently store this pollution underground. Coal-fired power plants are the top source of global warming pollution in Pennsylvania, and across the country.
Unfortunately, most experts agree that CCS is far from market-ready, and the costs associated with making it market-ready are uncertain. There are no coal plants that capture and store their carbon dioxide pollution in operation in the United States, and even coal utility executives have expressed pessimism about the technology’s prospects.
Jim Rogers, Duke Energy’s CEO, said in June of last year, “CCS as a magical technology that solves the carbon problem for coal plants is oversold…I think there is a lot to learn, and it is going to take us a lot longer for us to figure it out than a lot of us think.” With regard to cost, studies out of MIT and the Western Governors Association found that CCS could increase the costs of electricity from coal by over 60 percent.
“No one is saying that utilities and the government should abandon research on CCS technologies,” said Willcox. “But to require that a portion of the state’s electricity come from CCS before it is commercially viable and its many uncertainties have been addressed seems dangerously misguided.”
The groups also pointed out that the legislation’s draft language has the state assuming all liability for the sequestration sites for pollution deposited in the early years. Given the uncertainties around this technology—and around the liability issues for sequestration sites specifically—no one is sure how expensive assuming such liability would be for the state, and for Pennsylvania taxpayers.
The groups instead suggested that a better plan would be for the utilities and coal companies—those responsible for creating the pollution—to assume liability, with a measure in place to protect ratepayers from exorbitant resulting rate increases.
Also, in the event that the state is unable to develop a viable sequestration network, the draft legislation would still give AEPS credit to power plants that have installed the carbon capture technology. In other words, plants could be receiving credit for capturing and sequestering their pollution—without actually sequestering their pollution.
Finally, the groups pointed out that several studies have documented how the world can cut pollution to the levels scientists say are necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, without the use of CCS technology. Instead, aggressive deployment of clean energy solutions like energy efficiency, wind energy, geothermal power and solar power can lead to the reductions in global warming pollution called for by scientists.
The groups planned to send a letter outlining their concerns to all members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate and said they would work in the coming weeks and months to see that the sequestration language is either removed or significantly scaled back.

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