Op-ed: For Sneak Peak of Wolf’s Energy Policies, Mosey on Down to Texas

By Senator Gene Yaw
Chair, Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee

An extreme demand for electricity coupled with energy supply disruptions caused by record-low temperatures has triggered an energy crisis in Texas. State regulators and government officials are desperately attempting to ensure there is enough energy capacity to keep places like hospitals, water treatment facilities and other critical infrastructure functioning.

The ongoing and catastrophic blackouts in Texas have been exacerbated by the state’s transition from the reliable and resilient electric generation of coal to unreliable wind and solar power. It is the same road the Wolf Administration is taking Pennsylvania.

Governor Wolf’s unilateral decision to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a compact between several Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, will force a massive shift toward renewable energy by imposing a tax on all Pennsylvania electric generation facilities powered by fossil fuel. The outcome would be that all of the state’s coal-fired plants would close within the first year of joining RGGI, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection projections. The result of those closures would be a dangerous destabilization of our electric grid.

Ask the people of Texas what they would give right now for reliable and dependable electricity produced by clean burning fossil fuels.

The state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) thankfully put the brakes on the Wolf Administration’s plans recently and questioned the Governor’s ability to use his go-it-alone approach to governing. By recommending a one-year delay, IRRC is reaffirming what the Senate has been asking for all along – that the General Assembly must have a seat at the table in developing the state’s energy policy.

Beyond seriously threatening the stability of our electric grid and setting Pennsylvania on the same path as Texas, too many other questions remain unanswered about RGGI and the carbon tax it would impose. For instance, we do not have a clear picture of the effects on electricity rates for our families.

According to the Penn State Center for Energy and Law Policy, residential electric rates would increase by 7.8 percent annually between 2022 and 2030. That translates into devastating bills for low-income residents who already spend about 15 percent of their household budgets on energy costs. Studies also indicate that the state’s employers also will be crippled by the skyrocketing energy costs, meaning the costs of goods will increase or employers will relocate.

Beyond the economic impact of higher electric bills and shuttered employers, we also must examine the realities of RGGI’s promised environmental impacts. RGGI’s member states have not achieved the level of emission reductions that Pennsylvania has without membership.

Significant CO2 reductions have been achieved through the use of state-of-the-art technology in the energy sector. As a result, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power generation in Pennsylvania has been reduced by 38 percent since 2002. In fact, emissions in the United States are lower than they have been since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

These issues raised by the prospect of joining RGGI must be thoroughly analyzed by the General Assembly, the Public Utility Commission and PJM Interconnection, which coordinates the movement of electricity for 13 states and the District of Columbia.

While many want to declare a war on fossil fuels, I have said repeatedly, there can be no clean energy without fossil fuels. If anyone doubts this statement, name one clean energy overture which does not depend on fossil fuels at some point – just one. 

I firmly believe responsible efficient use of fossil fuel and green energy can co-exist in a well-balanced energy plan.  Pennsylvania generates more energy than our residents need each day, making energy production and sales a critical part of our state’s economy.

As we have seen in Texas, any decisions on energy policy will have a significant impact on our day-to-day lives. As chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, I will work to thoughtfully review programs such as RGGI and others in order to ensure Pennsylvania has a balanced approach to energy policy and the environment.

It is my hope the Governor will take the IRRC comments as a prompt to engage with the legislature instead of developing policy around us. I look forward to having this long-overdue conversation with the Wolf Administration and all parties so we can achieve an energy policy that is best for the Commonwealth.