Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Lawmaker: Alternative energy program is unfair

by on February 16, 2014 1:50 AM

ELDERTON — A Clearfield County-based state lawmaker says a state regulation requiring greater use of solar and wind power for generating electricity in Pennsylvania is unfair to consumers and conventional fuels found in the state.

State Rep. Tommy Sankey, of the 74th District, has introduced legislation that would repeal the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard program, a package enacted in 2004 during Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration.

The alternative standards require that an annually increasing percentage of electricity sold to retail customers in the state must come from alternative energy sources.

[PHOTO: Rep. Tommy Sankey addressed a meeting recently of the Armstrong-Indiana Patriots group in Shelocta. (Kayla Grube/Gazette photo)]

That percentage of fuels from “renewable and environmentally beneficial sources,” according to the enabling legislation, is set to increase to 18 percent by 2021.

And while the program largely promotes windmills and solar panels for creating electricity as alternatives to fossil fuels, it has no provisions for supporting conversion to natural gas, particularly in the wake of the development of the Marcellus shale formation, Sankey said.

At the monthly meeting of the Armstrong-Indiana Patriots this week, Sankey said his mission is at least to educate people about House Bill 1912, which would cancel the program.

“This comes at a time when we’re shutting down coal power plants, however you may feel about them, but we are worried about the future of power generation in times of cold weather, the sustainability of the regional grid and the possibility of brownouts,” Sankey said.

But solar panels can work only 13 percent of the time and wind is only available 35 percent of the time in certain areas of the state, Sankey said, making them unreliable fuels for electricity production.

Electricity generated and used in Pennsylvania largely is generated by coal- and nuclear-powered plants. And although the natural gas industry is heavily promoting its use as a fuel, Sankey said that’s not the main factor in his plan.

“I want to make sure (electricity) is the cheapest it can be and the safest it can be,” Sankey said.

He cited reports from Penn State University showing that Pennsylvania electric consumers’ bills in 2015 will have increased $35 million since the mandate took effect, and be $65.5 million more by 2021.

Sankey also said consumers are paying twice because wind and solar power generators receive taxpayer-funded state subsidies.

The free market is what should determine which fuels electric generators select, Sankey said.

“I don’t want to be construed as being anti-renewable by any means. If you can put a solar panel on my house or your house and we don’t have to pay our power bill anymore, please sign me up,” Sankey said. “The problem is, as a government, we’re picking winners and losers. Let them compete.

“Yes, I’m from coal country, but if coal can’t compete, then coal is out. It needs to be a level playing field … but we’re continuing to subsidize ideas and people are paying for these.”

The combined rising costs of fuel and health care will make Pennsylvania less “business-friendly,” he said.

“The environment is a top priority — I don’t want to breathe bad air or drink bad water — but people have to be able to survive in this, and someone has to pay for this,” he said.

“It’s upsetting to me that here we are, with the world in an energy crisis, and we are standing on the mecca of energy. And here we are increasing our own costs, making it more difficult for our own people to produce electricity.”

Sankey said about one-third of the electric power generated in Pennsylvania, at current low costs, is exported to other states, but the mandates would change that.

“In terms of percentages (of exported power), we are one of the top dogs,” Sankey said. “And it’s not because of windmills.”

House Bill 1912 was introduced in December and referred to the House Committee on Consumer Affairs. The measure would die at the end of the legislative session on Nov. 30 unless it is approved in both chambers and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Sankey is serving his first term in the House of Representatives.

Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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