The Clean Power Plan: A Time for Action, Not Angst

With the finalization of the Clean Power Plan, the United States has taken a bold step toward addressing climate change. It is only one of many steps that will be necessary, and the time to act is running out. It now falls on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states to move the plan into practice and policy.

Davitt Woodwell photo 2016 (3)
Davitt Woodwell

As with just about anything that the EPA does, the Clean Power Plan has been, and will continue to be, contentious. Battle lines have been drawn, lawsuits already filed and dismissed, and passions inflamed. But it should not be that way.

The Clean Power Plan offers opportunities – chances for states to guide their energy futures and balance the realities of climate change with the quickly changing landscape of energy production and distribution. The world of electricity production is rife with these changes: coal use is down, natural gas use is gaining, solar is ever less expensive, distributed renewable generation is increasing, and storage and smart grid technologies continue to evolve.

With the Clean Power Plan, states have the ability, and the responsibility, to show how they will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from electricity production to more sustainable levels. This requirement has already generated a whole lot of heat from all sides and now it is time for that heat to transform to light.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will have the job of identifying how it sees the future unfolding for electricity generation and use in the Commonwealth. This will not be an easy task, but it is one that can position Pennsylvania as a leader in understanding and projecting the continuing shifts in electric generation.

Pennsylvania is, arguably, uniquely situated in the world given our role as a provider of so much energy feedstock (coal, natural gas, biomass), electricity production (including nuclear, wind, solar, anaerobic digestion, hydro, et al), and emissions of about one percent of the global emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact, our state is a net exporter of energy.

Nonetheless, Pennsylvania is well-positioned to reduce emissions and meet, or even exceed, the targets set by the Clean Power Plan. Existing programs and policies have already provided a good start, such as the Act 129 energy efficiency program and our Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS). To date, Act 129 has successfully saved 2,500,000 MWh of electricity, with a savings of nearly $3 for every dollar invested, making it a win-win for the environment and ratepayers. Similarly AEPS has successfully driven development of renewable energy resources.

While leading at the time of its adoption in 2004, it’s now time to revisit and expand renewable energy requirements and investment. Not only will it reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will continue to create businesses and jobs. Similarly, we must remain committed to improved energy efficiency standards which benefit all Pennsylvanians.

In 2007, PEC released its Climate Roadmap for Pennsylvania. In that document, we called for a number of steps that could be taken to reduce the Commonwealth’s impacts on global climate. The Clean Power Plan finally provides a mechanism to force action on some of those recommendations. We look forward to following DEP’s efforts to make the tough choices about the future of Pennsylvania’s electricity generating fleet, and stand ready to provide input on those choices as well as to engage in productive conversations about how to make it all happen.

It is time for the posturing to end and the work to begin.