Pa.’s draft climate plan holds high hopes for efficiency, renewables

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pennsylvania’s blueprint for reducing its economywide greenhouse gas emissions will likely include a substantial focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency, as evidenced by a draft of the state’s upcoming Climate Change Action Plan.

The Pennsylvania Climate Change Act of 2008 requires the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to submit a climate change “Action Plan” to the governor every three years. The 2015 draft was shared with the state Climate Change Advisory Committee at a meeting held last month.

“Investments into less carbon intensive sources of energy should be prioritized to ensure that Pennsylvania has [a] stable economy, built on sustainable green energy, well into the future,” the draft states. “There are immense opportunities for renewable energy in Pennsylvania, such as wind and solar.”

Rob Altenburg, director of the environmental group PennFuture Energy Center, attended the Climate Change Advisory Committee meeting. Altenburg said the draft reflects “a change in tone” from the plan submitted to Pennsylvania’s previous governor, Tom Corbett (R), including, he said, a “forthright understanding that climate is a major issue.”

The plan submitted to Corbett in 2013 was controversial, in part because its release was delayed but also because environmental advocates viewed its recommendations as vague and unsupported by the Corbett administration (ClimateWire, Dec. 23, 2013).

The draft notes the major presence of coal and natural gas in Pennsylvania’s economy and energy profile — it is the nation’s No. 1 electricity exporter, No. 2 natural gas producer and No. 4 coal producer.

But while the 2013 plan painted the power sector’s shift from coal to natural as a major emissions-reduction opportunity, the 2015 version devotes the bulk of its chapter on energy-related emissions to increasing the state’s use of energy efficiency.

In a recent interview with ClimateWire, DEP Secretary John Quigley argued that one of the state’s current laws could support this goal, saying there’s “a lot of juice left to be squeezed out of our Act 129 — Pennsylvania’s energy efficiency law” (ClimateWire, Dec. 4).

A focus on stopping natural gas leaks

The draft also outlines potential measures to better address methane leakage related to natural gas production, and calls for the creation or renewal of incentive programs for solar and wind.

“Pennsylvania has the opportunity to demonstrate the efficacy and the economics of clean energy development and prove that it cannot only be positive for the nation’s energy grid, but positive for the nation’s economy,” the draft states.

The draft makes explicit mention of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which requires the state to lower its emissions rate from power plants by 33 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

“Pennsylvania’s compliance with the Clean Power Plan will clearly be a major component of its approach to climate change,” the draft states.

While the strategy for meeting the Clean Power Plan’s targets is still under development, the draft states that “many of the carbon strategies for electricity within this document should ultimately support the development of the state’s plan.”

The Wolf administration has repeatedly professed its support for the state’s fossil fuel sector, but the current governor is not as popular with the coal and natural gas industries as his predecessor (EnergyWire, Oct. 27).

However, the state’s natural gas supporters are advocating for the fuel to play a key role in Pennsylvania’s climate change strategy.

“Natural gas is a proven partner with renewable energy sources, acting as the critical back-up source that supports scalable wind and solar, which are highly intermittent,” Erica Clayton Wright, a spokeswoman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing additional updates from the committee as they are available.”

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance said in an email that while her organization hasn’t yet completed a full analysis of the draft plan compared to the plan submitted under Corbett, she added that “certainly this administration is more enamored with the idea of climate change.”

Altenburg cautioned that many of the exact figures in the draft — including the economic analysis — may change when the final version is released.

“Members of committee did have issue with some of the analysis in the plan,” said Altenburg. “This is a draft plan; I don’t expect necessarily that the precise numbers that you see in the plan now will be the numbers in the plan that goes out for public comment.”

A DEP spokesman couldn’t provide a date for the release of the final Climate Change Action Plan because the agency is awaiting a final analysis on the document. But he said in an email it will be released “soon” and will be subject to a comment period.