Pennsylvania’s Energy Future

We at PEC recently had the honor of hosting a conference on Deep Decarbonization of the electricity grid in March of this year. Our main, selfish, goal was to learn more about the science, technology, and policy at play in achieving the now more often stated goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. While we learned incredible amounts from national and local experts (sometimes one in the same), we did not achieve closure or the “kumbayah” moment. Indeed, we were left with many questions.

The format of the conference was based on the desire to hear from differing viewpoints about how to approach deep carbonization in and among four main areas that don’t always get talked about in the same room: renewable energy, energy efficiency, fossil fuels (through carbon capture), and nuclear power. As a process, it was very successful and we are wrestling with designing and implementing our next steps. Unfortunately, one point of seeming agreement from participants is that we don’t have much more, if any, time to waste.

When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the near term, we have said that PEC is generally technology agnostic. Following the conference, I would say that that is pretty much still true, but that a form of an “all of the above” strategy is entering our thinking. But a main part of the reason for “all of the above” is that our collective crystal balls cannot tell us what technology and use are going to be like in ten years, yet alone thirty. Energy generation and storage , carbon reduction, energy efficiency, and public policy all keep evolving rapidly, upsetting conventional wisdom at a seemingly regular pace.

As the most recent example of this in Pennsylvania, one only has to look at the activity of the General Assembly’s Nuclear Caucus, and what seems to be a developing battle between natural gas and nuclear power producers in Harrisburg. While a couple of other states have already taken this issue on, the Commonwealth is at the start of the discussion. The issues are complicated, the outcomes unclear.  My hope is that these discussions and debates about the future of two of the largest sources of the state’s electricity (both around 30%), and those that are still growing (renewables), will be able to look down the road and consider that the goals for Pennsylvania’s energy future need to be affordable and reliable energy for all consumers that also addresses the pressing needs of getting our carbon emissions under control.

Davitt Woodwell
PEC President & CEO