The Daily Item
Imagine the Corbett administration prepared their recently released “State Energy Plan” before we entered one of the longest cold spells in recent years. Otherwise how could they give so little attention to the best fuel source that can benefit all citizens in Pennsylvania — energy efficiency? It was nice to see some mention of renewable energy as a viable energy source, but the highlight on fossil fuels is a vision for the 20th century (or even the 19th) not for 2014. And why list energy efficiency last among the resources, not first?
Pennsylvania has flirted with energy efficiency programs for 40 years, but no recent administration has really made a serious effort to save energy for all its citizens. People in some nearby states spend 15 to 50 percent less to heat and cool their homes, thanks to leadership that kept energy efficiency as its core value. The only current efficiency effort that can be cited for our state is the Act 129 program for electric customers, but so far very little has been allocated to insulate and weatherize electric heated homes. With a modest goal of 2 percent reduction in electric use, Pennsylvania’s program is among the least ambitious in the Northeast. And there are no programs for gas utility customers, or for oil and propane users who are more prevalent in rural areas.
Contrary to the illusion that the abundance of Pennsylvania fossil fuel resources will benefit you or me, we can expect that world demand will keep prices high, even for natural gas. So the only realistic strategy to reduce energy costs is to insulate and weatherize homes and buildings, and other efficiency measures.
Since the Marcellus shale boom started, the governor and some lawmakers have painted a rosy picture of what this will do for our economy. But are you paying less to heat your home? How many people do you know with jobs in the industry? The real sin in the current energy policy is that we are giving away this gas for a pittance.
Retrieving gas from the Marcellus shale is very hard on the environment and our infrastructure. After all that damage, at least there should be benefits for everyone, not just a few energy businesses and landowners. We should view this gas as liquid gold to be treasured and rationed, not squandered and shipped overseas.
There is a simple solution to level the energy playing field for everyone in the Commonwealth: increase the tax on shale gas and use the funds to weatherize every home in the state, starting with the rural areas. Focus at least 50 percent on buildings that use heating oil, propane and natural gas since there are no state or industry resources for this sector. Better yet, put a carbon tax on all fossil fuels and create a sustainable funding stream for energy efficiency for the future.
The governor’s plan focuses on the job potential for exploiting our energy resources. But there are many jobs involved in efficiency. We have a core group of contractors who are already trained to do this work, but a full-scale effort would provide jobs for many more contractors in all parts of the state, not just in a few areas. And they are jobs that are rebuilding our homes and communities, not destroying them Another real benefit from focusing on energy efficiency is that people will be comfortable and safe in their homes. Almost every day this winter we have seen reports of home fires related to the use of space heaters or poorly maintained wood stoves. There are many other paybacks from embracing energy efficiency, but to me the most compelling is that the money invested will stay in our communities and the savings will give people money to spend on other necessities for years to come.
But don’t wait for any miracle shale tax to take action. You can choose to make energy improvements now. The return will be better than any savings account.
Gloria Fultz, of Richfield, is a retired energy educator and trainer whose vision is for everyone to be comfortable and safe in their homes and businesses. For resources on what you can do email: firstname.lastname@example.org.