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Make Pennsylvania the Keystone State again

As Sen. Gene Yaw represents a district where humanity’s role in climate change is often unaccepted, his declaration in these pages, “the goal of addressing climate change is desirable,” is a welcome starting point to a dialogue.

Numerous economic realities join those of science backing up chairman Yaw. Market-driven forces are ushering in our nation’s energy transition. Why did multi-state utility Xcel Energy commit to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050? Why did oil supermajor BP recently write down $13 to $17 billion of oil reserves and assets? With so much cheap natural gas, why did all US utility-scale electrical power generation increase to 17.5% renewable energy in 2019?

Electrical power producers increasingly value the stable costs of renewable power over unknown future commodity expenses. Wind power costs have so declined it is currently cheaper than all others. Swanson’s law indicates solar panels will be 20% cheaper with every doubling of global production. More efficiency gains with solar, wind, and batteries and soon it will be cheaper to build new solar arrays than run debt-free gas and coal-fired power plants.

Given the risks of the oil business, BP’s corporate leadership no longer sees necessary high returns as obtainable. Lower expenses including borrowing rates for offshore wind and geothermal energy are key factors in BP’s “energy transition.” Higher borrowing costs and the firm’s own oil price projections lost out.

Sen. Yaw raises a good number of issues advocates of America’s transition to a primarily renewable energy-based economy must address. He rightly notes mining concerns in building massive renewable energy capacity. It is vital investors and developers consider how to mitigate biodiversity and habitat loss from sources of needed metals and minerals.

A big question is, how solvable are mining issues compared with those of continuing the world’s fossil fuel energy extraction pace, including its incredible amount of problematic physical waste? It is understandable Sen. Yaw must balance “policy’s impact on our local and state economies.” But Pennsylvania legislators also have a constitutional obligation to consider the environmental impacts of policies on those yet to come, not just on those of us currently living.

Converting to a 90% electrically powered economy fueled primarily by renewable energy would benefit Pennsylvanians now and in the future. Cheaper energy, health care savings and other benefits beckon, in addition to doing our part to address climate change.

New economic research estimates about 1% of GDP annually as the cost of a national electrical power energy transition. A reasonable cost for a tremendous opportunity for investments leading to what we all want: jobs, millions of new, good paying jobs.

Commonwealth citizens sharing chairman Yaw’s desirable goal have a duty to attempt to convince him how can-do American spirit can lead this crucial transition despite seemingly overwhelming obstacles. Emerging solutions for recycling solar panels, wind turbine blades, and for rare earth mineral substitutes are a few examples.

A desire to address climate change requires an attempt to comprehend the warning signs of impending climate catastrophe. A good place to start is a short review of the newly published book, “Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency” by author Mark Lynas that appeared in the Aug. 20 New York Review of Books.

Let’s get a couple of things straight about Sen. Yaw. He’s a true believer in all arguments he presents. He doesn’t need to raise or spend a dime besides a filing fee to hold his powerful position. But he does appear to have a bias toward fossil fuel industries, especially the shale gas industry. That’s understandable, given most Pennsylvanians currently have relatively cheap NG and electrical service and landowners in his district in aggregate (including the Senator himself) have received at least a few billion dollars from the gas industry.

Can Sen. Yaw be convinced that rules and regulations written for fossil fuel industries keep Pennsylvania from cheaper reliable electricity? That the Commonwealth can’t talk up greenhouse gas emissions without delving seriously into NG’s methane problem? Can he get onboard with grid neutrality allowing distributed energy and storage to flourish nationally and lead to billions of dollars of new energy infrastructure investment, see power grids digitized, and transmission spurs constructed for centralized renewable power grid connections? Can the Senator wade throughthe fossil fuel industries PR deception that Americans can’t come up with better, smarter, violent storm and fire resilient grids (see ERCOT, in Texas) that will be more reliable, not less? That the nation can have both cheaper electrical power and see the NG industry emerge from its dismal financial record by transitioning from providing electricity and heat, to mainly serving hard to decarbonize industries, to emergency backup? Combined with grid modernization, we must persuade him that low-interest financing options allowing property owners to obtain capital investment for decarbonized building infrastructure can be made available though innovative financing strategies and public-private partnerships. Proven American solutions to previous challenges; loans like those that get us homes and vehicles created to lower overall energy costs and help build a reliable grid via decentralized power production and storage.

He must also be convinced that addressing climate change now will not only result in cheaper power and healthier citizens, but in fact will prevent, not cause, disastrous economic instability. And that Pennsylvania’s Constitution requires us to seize this opportunity to take a leading role in the energy transition that must happen for a livable future.

Ralph Kisberg of Williamsport is an energy policy enthusiast and consultant on energy issues. He is a pro bono associate of power and energy storage developer Tidal Electric Inc.

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