Pa. must cut greenhouse gasses, experts tell House panel

HARRISBURG, March 2 – Pennsylvania, which produces almost 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, must use more renewable energy, become more energy efficient and reduce methane emissions to help address climate change, a panel of experts testified Monday.


Their testimony came during a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing in Harrisburg organized by state Rep. Greg Vitali, the Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.


“Three-quarters of the energy consumed in Pennsylvania comes from coal, natural gas and oil, while only about 4 percent comes from wind and solar,” Vitali said. “Governor Wolf and the legislature must work toward significantly reducing fossil fuel use and shift to renewables for the commonwealth to meet its climate change responsibility.”


Climate scientist Richard Alley of Penn State University said it is important for Pennsylvania to switch to renewable sources of energy soon.


“Strong scholarship shows that delaying this unavoidable switch, while releasing the carbon dioxide from the fossil-fuel burning, will cause changes in the climate system that are more and more expensive, so that humanity will be better off economically to start very soon to make the transition in a wise way,” Alley said.


Vitali has introduced three bills so Pennsylvania can do its part to address climate change.


House Bill 100 would increase the amount of energy electric distribution companies, such as PECO, would have to obtain from renewable sources to 15 percent by 2023. The current rate is 8 percent by 2021.


Bruce Burcat, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, said Pennsylvania is lagging behind neighboring states in the amount of renewable energy that must be used. He said he supports the Vitali initiative.


“House Bill 100 is reachable and readily achievable,” Burcat said.


To further encourage use of renewable energy, Vitali also introduced H.B. 200, which would establish a dedicated funding source for the PA Sunshine Solar Program. The program, which has exhausted its funding, helps homeowners and businesses install solar systems. The program would receive $25 million a year from a 1.25-mill increase on the utilities’ Gross Receipts Tax.


Another bill Vitali introduced, H.B. 129, would require natural gas distribution companies to reduce energy consumption and demand by 1 percent by 2018 and 3 percent by 2020. These are the same requirements currently placed on electric distribution companies under Act 129 of 2008.


Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner James Cawley said Act 129 has been successful, saving twice as much money as it cost to put in place.


“It’s a great idea to extend Act 129 to the natural gas industry,” Cawley said.


The policy committee also heard about the dangers of methane emissions from the natural gas industry from Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineering professor and former consultant to the oil and gas industry.


Ingraffea said methane is short-lived in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide, but is more potent in warming the world. He said Pennsylvania is adding more and more methane to the atmosphere, mostly through drilling.


"There are many sources of methane emissions in Pennsylvania throughout the life-cycle of natural gas,” Ingraffea said. “They have combined to create a 20.8-percent increase in mid- and downstream-methane emissions since 2010, mostly from rapid growth in gathering and processing capacity. State emissions from mid- and downstream natural gas infrastructure accounted for 5 percent of the U.S. methane emissions from the same sources in 2012.”


To curb these emissions, Ingraffea suggested vigorously enforcing all methane emission control regulations in place.


He also suggested enacting new regulations regarding intentional emissions from drilling; blowdowns at compressor stations, processing plants, and pipeline pig and transfer stations; finding and fixing the large leakers among the hundreds of thousands of abandoned wells; and accelerating replacement of cast iron distribution mains under cities. 


Also testifying at the hearing were Terry Fitzpatrick, president of the Energy Association of Pennsylvania; Maureen Mulligan, policy director for the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance; Rob Altenburg, director of the PennFuture Energy Center; and Mark Bohling, executive vice president of Southwest Energy.