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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pittsburgh continues leadership role in developing next-generation energy technology

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce awarded the Pittsburgh region a designation under the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, making it one of 12 cities to receive federal support for long term economic development growth in regional manufacturing. On Friday, July 17, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to set up a lab in the Hill District’s Energy Innovation Center.  

The lab will allow NETL to develop new technologies to upgrade Pittsburgh’s aging infrastructure. The MOU will also assist local universities in researching and developing energy solutions; support energy-related businesses in Pittsburgh and those seeking to relocate to the city; and create the foundation to integrate 21st century energy technology and infrastructure into large scale developments in Hazelwood, the Lower Hill District, and Uptown.

The Seven Goals of the MOU are as follows:
  1. Craft a strategic plan that does the following: a) Assists in the identification, decision support, and adoption of district energy strategies, including the development, demonstration, and deployment of next generation energy solutions and electric power delivery technologies; and b) supplies near-, mid-, and long-term guidance for public and private audiences on the development of district scale clean energy and grid design strategies, with a focus on combined heat and power and distributed energy resources.
  2. Identify the appropriate financial mechanism to provide a catalyst and underwrite investment in the design and construction for district energy systems, adoption of monitoring and automation technologies, advanced intelligent infrastructure, and renewable energy deployment.
  3. Design a policy plan that supports the development of municipal, utility and regulatory needs for district energy applications and infrastructure modernization.
  4. Conduct economic analysis that presents costs/benefits of district energy solutions with micro-grid integration and building performance policies.
  5. Accelerate the growth of, and access to, energy jobs.
  6. Form a technical team to explore Pittsburgh’s efforts.
  7. Prepare a technology research and development road map for rapid demonstration and deployment.
Mayor Peduto noted after the signing that, “Now we have an opportunity to be the world leader when we think of 21st century urban energy – how we’re producing it."

DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz agreed and stated, “This link between NETL and the city will position Pittsburgh to lead the nation in next-generation energy strategies and to build one of the largest integrated district energy ecosystems in North America. Today at the Energy Innovation Center we saw the possibilities for Pittsburgh to be a leader in new energy technologies, and this agreement will only help accelerate their development."

According to U.S. Representative Mike Doyle, “Pittsburgh is on the grid, so to speak, down in Washington, D.C., especially where energy is concerned, and I think we have a bright future ahead if we continue on the path that we’ve started with the energy innovation center and the partnerships that we’ve built.”

This is good news for the City of Pittsburgh as well as the Commonwealth, and it further illustrates that the energy world is changing with the times. We can no longer afford to run our grid on antiquated technology.

PennFuture looks forward to seeing the new energy developments coming out of the laboratory.  

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Waiting for the Clean Power Plan

Within the next couple of weeks, we expect to see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) release the final version of its Clean Power Plan. This is the regulation that will seek to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuel electricity generation. While we wait, there are some things to keep in mind...

The EPA will set a target but it won’t mandate what states must do to get there.

The EPA’s target will likely be based on a similar mix of strategies as was found in the proposed plan: Increased efficiency at coal-fired plants, switching generation from coal to natural gas, preserving nuclear generation, adding more clean renewable generation, and improving energy efficiency. The EPA picked these because they found them to be available and cost effective, so it should be no surprise if states base their plans on the same choices. But, states have flexibility. States can mix and match among these strategies to find the right balance. They can also use other measures if they choose, or even work with other states to find the best way forward.

When the targets are released, we're sure to hear opponents decry how expensive compliance will be. The doom and gloom is predictable but the fact is neither they, or anyone else, will know what path our state plan will take. Our state plan will be developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after a year or more of analysis, public hearings, comment periods, meetings with industry, and careful review and consideration.

Industry representatives will inflate cost estimates.

It isn’t surprising to hear industries complain about the cost of regulation. However, it’s worth noting the history that shows they are notoriously bad at making such estimates. They like to overestimate costs, underestimate benefits, and blame every retirement of a power plant on EPA regulation.

Auto manufacturers, for example, resisted putting seat belts in cars for years, complaining it was too expensive. And yet, that turned out to be one of the most cost effective safety measures ever devised.

Every attempt to limit pollution has faced similar complaints, but we can look to the 40-year track record. We have made huge strides in protecting public health and welfare since EPA was founded and, adjusted for inflation, electricity costs less today than it did when we started. Does anyone concerned about their health want to go back to the pollution we had in the days before the EPA?

Industry will try to stall and delay.

When opponents are unable to halt progress, their next step is to try to stall and delay it. We are sure to hear a chorus of folks talk about how we are “rushing” and why we should slow down. In reality, we could hardly be going slower.

We have been aware of climate change as a potential problem for over 50 years. For many outside the scientific community, that potential problem became real on June 23, 1988 (27 years ago) when James Hansen told the U.S. Senate that climate change had begun saying “it is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” Since then, volumes of research and analysis have confirmed that we need to take action, and that any delay will make the solution that much harder.

The fossil fuel sector is the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. The Clean Power Plan might be a small step toward fixing the problem but it’s time we start.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cars and carbon pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which will control carbon pollution from power plants, is a necessary step in the fight against climate change. The generation of electricity is the largest source of such pollution, accounting for 37 percent of our nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. We must do better.

While electricity generation is the largest source of pollution, the transportation sector is a close second. While a major source of emissions, this sector is often more difficult to regulate.

Under our current legal structure, the federal government preempts much of the possible state regulation. No one wants to see 50 different standards for vehicles and the associated confusion that would entail. But the lack of state regulation means the federal government can’t use state programs as a “testing ground” for new ideas like it does for stationary sources.

The transportation sector also has massive existing investments in infrastructure that are hard to alter or replace. While other fuel choices such as hydrogen or natural gas could lower carbon pollution, we couldn’t sell such cars without an adequate network of refueling stations, and no one will invest in the stations unless folks are buying the cars. That sort of chicken-and-egg problem has limited the deployment of alternate fueled vehicles to things like locally-operated fleets, airport service equipment, and other special purposes. Even if other issues such as methane leakage from natural gas are addressed to make these vehicles cleaner, it's not clear the economics will ever support wide deployment.

One recent advance has been the rise of hybrid vehicles. Where a few years ago there were only a couple of makes and models on the market, these days practically every major manufacturer has at least one hybrid in their stable, from sub-compacts to SUVs. Up until 2013, there was even a Cadillac Escalade hybrid. (It’s 20 mpg city was not impressive mileage but it beat the truly awful 14 mpg of the base model.) Hybrids are still more expensive, in some cases enough so that you are unlikely to recover the difference in fuel savings. That said, costs are declining.

Dedicated electric vehicles are another choice. While these are not “zero emission” vehicles, they move pollution from the tailpipe to the power plant. However, as the Union of Concerned Scientists reports: “The good news is that no matter where you live in the United States, electric vehicles charged on the power grid have lower global warming emissions than the average gasoline-based vehicle sold today.” Electrics are still not cheap but they aren't all in the Tesla Model S price range, either, as cars like the Nissan Leaf can be had for under $30,000.

There are, of course, pluses and minuses to electrics. While lower fuel costs, less pollution, and often fewer maintenance issues are great, that has to be balanced with limited range and fewer options for recharging. For many, this means that for now, an electric will be a commuter vehicle and not the only car in the garage.

On any list of vehicle choices, Pennsylvanians now have another choice. Last year, Rep. Mike Fleck’s HB 573 (with an amendment by Rep. Kevin Schreiber) was signed into law as Act 154. This (finally) added electric-assist bicycles to the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code. This means that if you are 16 or older, you can operate an electric bike with a 750 watt motor that can drive the bike at up to 20 m.p.h. Following the passage of this law, I couldn’t resist converting an old mountain bike. Sure, its not going to replace a car, especially in bad weather. But there are some advantages: it costs me about a half a cent in power to get to work, it's faster than a car by avoiding traffic, and most importantly, it’s a blast to ride.

If we choose to do a little better with our own personal carbon footprint, there are certainly a lot of options. Whereas a few years ago, buying a tiny sub-compact car was the only way to save fuel and reduce pollution, we can now shop for the choice that best fits our needs. We just hope that's not a 14 mpg Escalade.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

Is your smart meter giving you a headache? No, but opponents are giving us one.

In yet another attempt to derail Pennsylvania’s successful Act 129 program, House Bill 396 was introduced in January and, if passed, it would remove the smart meter requirement from the Act 129 legislation. Under Act 129, utilities are required to replace outdated meter technology with smart meters for all of their customers. 

According to Representative Mike Reese’s memo when he introduced the legislation, “Many electricity customers throughout Pennsylvania have expressed their desire to not have smart meter technology at their homes or businesses. Their concerns range from securing sensitive and personal information to the health impacts of radio frequency (RF) waves.”

First, I have a feeling that the “many” he is referring to is really a small constituency of people who happen to have a large voice in his district.  

Second, the security concerns are understandable. However, the benefits exceed any risks. Smart meters allow utilities to respond to outages more rapidly, which could save lives. In addition, collecting data about your home energy use is to provide YOU with detailed information. Smart meters are the reason YOU are able to go to your utility’s website and see how the electricity is used in YOUR home. They allow us to see what our “bad behaviors” are so that we can correct them and stop wasting energy and money. Since the utilities cannot share the information with a third party without your permission, there is little risk the data will be used for other purposes.

Third, the health impacts issue is baseless. Individuals have claimed that after a smart meter was installed on the outside of their home (with exterior and interior walls and insulation in between them and the meter) they became dizzy, tired all the time, had more headaches, suffered from memory loss, developed rashes on their skin...the list goes on and on. These are all non-specific symptoms with many possible causes. There is no scientific evidence linking those sorts of symptoms to smart meters, let alone to cell phones and microwaves, which expose you to higher RF waves (and where cellphones are concerned, they are in your pocket, on your ear, on your pillow, etc.).

According to a 2011 report by the California Council on Science and Technology, "Exposure levels from smart meters are well below the [FCC's established standards] for such [health] effects." The report further notes that, "There is no evidence that additional standards are needed to protect the public from smart meters."

Smart meters enable us to have more information about our electricity usage so that we can make our homes more efficient, help the environment, and maybe even put more money into our wallets.  And that’s all they do. They are not messing with our brains or allowing the government to spy on our every move. Enough is enough with these absurd pieces of legislation.  

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's time to support renewable energy

A recent fact sheet from the White House reports that, “Last year, the United States brought online as much solar energy every three weeks as it did in all of 2008, and the solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.” The industry saw 34 percent more capacity installed last year over 2013, resulting in enough power for more than a million additional homes. Not resting on past success, the administration has announced new initiatives and new targets to keep the gains coming.

In Pennsylvania, however, many of the gains are passing us by. When we rank states by installed capacity, we are fairly high on the list. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV Project lists us as number 8 among states. When it comes to the amount we installed last year, however, the story changes and we are not even in the top ten. We were an early leader but years of neglecting development of renewable energy has allowed others to pull ahead.

It’s probably not surprising that we lag behind sunny states such as Arizona and New Mexico. It also isn’t too surprising that we lag behind larger states like California and Texas. But, when states like Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey are in the top ten, we have to question why we aren’t.

Not only are we polluting our environment and are more dependent on fossil fuels, we are also falling behind on other economic measures. When it comes to solar jobs, we are 15th in the nation with only 2,800. This hardly compares to states like Massachusetts, which is second in the nation with over 9,000 solar jobs, and New York and New Jersey, which each have more than 7,000.

Failure to invest in solar and other types of renewable energy has been a huge lost opportunity for Pennsylvania.  

There are many steps we can take to reverse this trend but the big issue on the table this summer is the state budget. The Governor proposed a budget that supported renewable energy and energy efficiency, and the legislature responded by offering nothing. On this issue, doing nothing means we'll be losing ground and that is certainly not where Pennsylvania should be heading.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

PA taking preliminary steps toward compliance with EPA Clean Power Plan

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell may be calling for states to wait for all the lawsuits surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan to be resolved before even thinking about compliance options but, lucky for us, Pennsylvania is not listening. In fact, thanks to new leadership, we are ahead of the game: the EPA hasn’t even issued its final rule and the Commonwealth is already weighing its compliance options.  

Along with Michigan, Missouri and Utah, Pennsylvania took part in the National Governors Association (NGA) “Policy Academy” wherein representatives discussed cost-effective strategies for compliance. During a recent discussion with Energywire, John Quigley, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), noted that with NGA's technical assistance, "we've been doing some preliminary modeling runs, just trying to scope out the universe of alternatives.” 
Our state’s chief air regulator recently stated that he believes trading carbon allowances with other states is a viable option to achieve our emissions reduction goal. As I’ve stated before, emissions trading is one of the best available options to reduce ghg emissions at the lowest cost possible and, as a result, lessen the overall cost of dealing with climate change. Check out my blog post entitled "What is RGGI and why should PA be interested?" for background information on emissions trading.  
Secretary Quigley echoed the sentiment by saying DEP will consider trading when developing its State Implementation Plan (SIP), and "there's a possibility to design our approach such that we'd be trade-ready." Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or forming a trading group with states within the PJM (our Regional Transmission Organization) region are two emissions trading options to consider. 
But as the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Great Plains Institute have suggested, we could also trade allowances without signing a formal agreement, and simply trade with states that are also trading-ready. 
According to Secretary Quigley, "This could go any number of ways; we want to look at all of the options. At the end of the day, the governor's direction is we have to develop a Pennsylvania-centric plan, something that works for the Commonwealth; that preserves the role of coal-fired generation in our energy portfolio and that preserves the state's position as a net-energy exporter." Secretary Quigley also emphasized what he has stated many times before: DEP will be transparent and continue to have discussions with stakeholders throughout the process. 
Thanks to a law signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett, DEP will have to move quickly once the final rule is announced because the compliance plan needs to be submitted to the General Assembly for consideration 100 days before the EPA deadline. 
Even so, Secretary Quigley is eager to see the final rule and get to work on developing a plan that “complies with it and that advances the ball economically for the Commonwealth." 

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A bump in the road for Mercury control

On June 29, the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 opinion in Michigan v. EPA where it disapproved of the procedure used by EPA in promulgating its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule for power plants. This opinion does not change the fact that Mercury, along with other metals and acid gases covered by the rule, are dangerous pollutants that can and should be regulated by EPA. (Mercury is of particular concern as it is known to impair the neurological development of children.) While there are those who seek to minimize the extent of the health impacts of Mercury, overstate the costs, and understate the benefits, the science and economics both come down clearly on the side of this rule. What, then, is the problem?

The key holding from the Court was that EPA unreasonably failed to consider the costs of the rule when deciding to regulate power plants. Despite press to the contrary, it was not that the EPA “failed to consider the costs.” The record is clear that there was extensive consideration of costs during the regulatory process. The problem in the Court’s eyes was when, exactly, that consideration took place.

The Clean Air Act treats the consideration of costs and other economic factors differently in different sections of the Act. When setting health-based standards for things like ozone pollution, for example, Congress expressly forbids EPA from considering costs. That makes a lot of sense. When you visit a doctor, you may be concerned about how much the treatment will cost, but you don’t want the doctor to change your diagnosis if it’s too expensive to treat what is really wrong. Just like a doctor, EPA gives the diagnosis first and then considers the costs when determining how to treat the problem.

The EPA followed that same general pattern here. It first decided that health impacts and other concerns made it necessary to control Mercury and air toxics emissions from power plants, then it considered the cost of doing so as part of its regulatory impact analysis. After exhaustive consideration of costs during a decade of analysis and multiple rounds of review, it found that the rule was highly cost effective. It determined the regulation would cost $9.6 billion to implement but would return between $37 and $90 billion in benefits. Satisfied with this conclusion, the EPA finalized the rule. The problem in the Court’s eyes was a matter of timing: the EPA didn’t consider the costs in the first step when it decided that regulation was necessary.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the four Justices in a sharp dissent, described this as “a peculiarly blinkered way for a court to assess the lawfulness of an agency’s rulemaking.” She goes on to point out the obvious issue that “until EPA knows what standards it will establish, it cannot know what costs they will impose. Nor can those standards even be reasonably guesstimated at such an early stage.” Despite the logic of Justice Kagan's dissent, the Court's decision stands.

What now?

It is not clear what, if anything, will change with regard to the MATS rule as a result of this case. The case will be returned to the D.C. Circuit Court “for further proceedings consistent with [the Supreme Court’s] opinion.” That doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any changes in the actual regulation. Since the cost analysis has been completed, this decision may be no more than a bump in the road with a little more homework and process required to satisfy the Court.

While this could certainly cause some disruption, it’s possible the existing rule will remain in effect. Back in 2008, the courts invalidated the Bush-era Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) on far more substantive grounds than we see here, yet it left the rule in place for years while the EPA worked on a replacement. Hopefully, the same approach will be deployed here, leaving vital protections in place while the paperwork gets sorted out.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Great news for Philadelphia and PA: Microgrid research center in development

Penn State and the energy technology company Alstom are working on a microgrid research center at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia.  Penn State's vice president for research, Neil Sharkey, says the University is “working to spur real innovation and job growth, as well as boost the efficiency of current technologies."

The center is just one part of the 10-year Energy Master Plan for The Navy Yard.  Other components of the master plan include alternative power sources, dynamic time-of-use tariffs, and energy efficiency and demand reduction incentives. From the plan: "The end goal is a modern microgrid capable of offering a variety of service options to Navy Yard tenants." The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp (PIDC) is in charge of master development at the site. 

Penn State and Alstom’s work will allow for the ongoing development and demonstrations of microgrid technologies. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is helping to fund the research center with a $1.2 million grant to Alstom and a $129 million grant to Penn State.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Philadelphia Navy Yard, it's touted as a “1,200-acre former naval shipyard, now transformed into a progressive and modern business campus with more than 145 companies in the office, industrial, and R&D sectors occupying more than 7 million square feet of space." Thanks to the microgrid, some of those businesses will be able to generate, manage, and store the energy needed to run their daily operations. The microgrid will also decrease the vulnerability of businesses to power outages due to large storm events like Hurricane Sandy. For more information, see my previous blog post on microgrids and distributed generation

Michael Atkinson, president of Alstom Grid North America, says, "This microgrid demonstration is in line with the DOE's national objective to improve grid resiliency, reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency, while protecting critical infrastructure."

Penn State’s research will help Pennsylvania and the U.S. advance distributed generation, demand response, energy storage, and grid resiliency. The DOE grants are all part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan. 

For more information on the project, check out The Navy Yard website.  

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

PA Coal tells the same old (tired) stories

Yesterday, in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Legislature’s “Coal Caucus” invited representatives of the coal industry to tell them why they oppose the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal to reduce carbon pollution from coal and other fossil fuels. We have heard the talking points before, often from a pundit decrying Obama’s “war on coal,” and they don’t get any better with age.

Industry analysts and insiders have been discussing the decline in coal for years and, while EPA is often blamed, many admit that even without the EPA, coal is less and less competitive. The Energy Information Agency tallies “all employees engaged in production, preparation, processing, development, maintenance, repair shop, or yard work at mining operations, including office workers,” and PA was down to 8,382 coal jobs in 2013—an over 6 percent decline from the prior year.

Those at the hearing continued blaming EPA and spun tales of more doom and gloom for the future. For example, it was claimed yet again that the EPA’s proposed rule would reduce Pennsylvania’s coal fleet by nearly 70 percent and that this would jeopardize 36,000 jobs. Compared to the actual number of coal jobs in the state, the job loss numbers are clearly inflated. It’s also common practice for the industry to blame all plant closures on the EPA, no matter how tenuous that claim, but this is an even worse exaggeration.

I wrote a blog post in August 2014 detailing the mental gymnastics that are required to conclude 70 percent of our capacity will be retired. In short, it assumes that the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will craft a plan where the only item they will take any credit for is the shuttering of coal plants and attendant replacement gas plants. That means deciding not to take allowable credit for our Act 129 energy efficiency program, nothing for our existing Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, and nothing for maintaining our fleet of nuclear power plants. It also means doing nothing new to improve efficiency at those plants and not even considering other alternatives such as multi-state compliance options. Why on earth would DEP craft such a plan? Simple: They wouldn’t.

When folks like the PA Coal Alliance repeat that number, they are quick to claim that the source of the crazy 70-percent number was DEP itself. To be precise, that number was often repeated by Vince Brisini, who was a Deputy Secretary for DEP during the Corbett administration. In discussions I had with Vince on the topic, he justified the claim by assuming courts would eventually throw out all the parts of the proposed Clean Power Plan that would allow credit for any measure other than shutting down coal plants. Even if the courts were to agree with him, the EPA would be legally required to adjust their targets accordingly. There is no reasonable way to get to the number he was claiming—Vince was simply wrong. (Having left DEP, Vince is back working for the industry and testified at the hearing.)

We are a long way from seeing DEP’s plan on this issue. The EPA is expected to finalize its rule shortly and DEP may have two years or more to craft a state plan. DEP Secretary John Quigley has made it clear that he agrees with Gov. Tom Wolf on the importance of protecting Pennsylvania coal.

In spite of its decline, coal is going to be part of Pennsylvania's energy generation mix for years to come and the Clean Power Plan isn’t going to change that.

Rob Altenburg is director of the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @RobAltenburg.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Energy benchmarking ordinances: Not just for big cities anymore

Kansas City, Missouri this week passed a mandatory energy benchmarking and energy use disclosure ordinance. With a population of just over 440,000, Kansas City is one of the first "small cities" in the country to institute such a policy. Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city with just over 100,000 residents, also passed a benchmarking ordinance in conjunction with the city of Boston in 2012. They join the ranks of  many large U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta, that have added energy benchmarking to their toolbox of energy conservation efforts.

As is the case with similar ordinances across the country, Kansas City will require buildings above 50,000 square feet to record and report their energy and water use data. The city will then make that data publicly available online. Energy use becomes transparent and building owners, potential tenants, would-be investors, and the business community will be able to consider energy costs when searching for a commercial property. If the market demands it, building owners will also be encouraged to improve the energy and water efficiency of their buildings in order to remain competitive.  

It's likely that Kansas City is the first in a new wave of smaller cities to take this step for the economic benefits and competitive edge that it provides. Kansas City's public buildings are expected to save nearly $400 million over the next 15 years. The long-term economic impact for the city as a whole is still being analyzed. 

Pittsburgh (with a population of just over 300,000) and other smaller metropolitan hubs in Pennsylvania should take note. Benchmarking ordinances are no longer just for big cities. 

Evan Endres is program manager for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. He tweets @ER_Endres.

Hawaii is leading the way to 100 percent renewable energy

A few months ago, I blogged about how Burlington, Vermont became the first city in the U. S. to use 100 percent renewable energy. Now Hawaii is on the path to becoming the first state to get its energy from renewable sources alone. On June 9, Hawaii Governor David Ige (D) signed House Bill (HB) 623 requiring electric utilities to supply 100 percent of their sales with renewables by 2045. The plan is for the 100 percent goal to be achieved in steps.  
Hawaii looks to have 30 percent renewables by 2020, 40 percent by 2030, 70 percent by 2040, and hit the final goal by 2045. The goal is quite ambitious but it is certainly a step in the right direction. I am cautiously optimistic that Hawaii will be able to reach its goal by 2045.

In order for Hawaii to achieve these goals, there will be a lot of pieces that need to fall into place at the right time. But as I have said previously, adding renewables onto the grid is not about achieving perfection. It is about taking that first leap and following through until the goal is achieved, whether or not it is by the initial end date. The Island State deserves a lot of credit for upping the ante and, hopefully, other states will follow suit. 
The newly signed legislation replaces Hawaii’s previous goal of achieving 15 percent renewables by 2015, 25 percent by 2020, and 40 percent by 2030. The governor says using local sources of energy instead of depending on oil imports will benefit the state's economy. Currently, Hawaii spends $5 billion a year on oil imports that provide roughly 70 percent of the state's electricity. In fact, Hawaii has historically been the state most dependent on oil. 
Gov. Ige is also increasing the ability of Hawaiians to use community solarCommunity solar is great for those of us who live in apartment buildings or have a lot of shade coverage. Additionally, the University of Hawaii now has a net-zero energy usage target to be achieved by January 1, 2035.
Check out this brief video for more information on Hawaii’s decision.
Hawaii’s move comes on the heels of a recently published report in the Journal Energy and Environmental Science that concludes, “wind, water and sunlight could meet demand for all energy -- not just electricity -- in every state by midcentury.” Notice that nuclear power and biofuels are not included. According to the researchers, all states could achieve 80 percent renewables by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. They found that if we switched to using electricity to fuel our cars, homes, and factories, we would reduce power demand by 39 percent by 2050.

Making the right policy decisions such as having renewable portfolio standards, efficiency mandates, and electric vehicle incentives will be helpful, and implementing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan will help push states to act even more.  

Jennie Demjanick is energy policy analyst for the PennFuture Energy Center and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @JennieDemjanick.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

PA builders' influence proves code adoption system needs a reboot

Pennsylvania’s building code adoption process is tainted by unprecedented access and control from the Pennsylvania Builders Association, subject to lack of impartiality from Advisory Council leadership, and generally beyond repair. Legislation establishing a new and workable system is the only path forward.   

As of midday on May 20, the Building Codes Review and Advisory Council (RAC) adopted a random selection of provisions amounting to less than ten out of 1,900 code updates, some of which serve to weaken safety and energy efficiency in our state.

Unprecedented access by the Pennsylvania Builders Association (PBA)

Through a series of correspondence obtained via a Right to Know Law (RTKL) request submitted by PennFuture, it was discovered that the Pennsylvania Builders Association (PBA) continues to receive unprecedented access, and impose inside influence, on Pennsylvania's (broken) building codes adoption process. Actions include inviting members of the RAC to a series of special Uniform Construction Code review meetings held by a PBA subcommittee. 

Lack of Impartiality from RAC Leadership

The porous codes adoption process is also tainted by the revelation that leaders of the RAC provided advice to the PBA on how to frame their argument against the energy efficiency code updates before the Council. This lack of impartiality further undermines confidence that the current system can adopt codes that are in the best interests of Pennsylvania. 

A system beyond repair

The wolves are guarding the sheep as the PBA fends off common sense code changes that may mean lower profits for them but safer and more efficient homes for us. How did this happen? The PBA has stacked the deck against Pennsylvanians through its unprecedented influence on the codes adoption process and via legislation that puts veto power in the hands of home builders and their allies, who make up one-third of the RAC. All this while proposing additional legislative action to stretch out consideration of new codes to once every six years, further guaranteeing complete control over the process.

Pennsylvania needs legislation to reinstate a predictable, transparent, uniform process to guarantee that all of our structures are built in accordance with the newest and best building codes. We must return to a process in which modern codes are adopted with adequate review.

Evan Endres is program manager for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. He tweets @ER_Endres.