Tuesday, November 21, 2017

WKOK: Why It’s Important To Name The Eastern Hellbender State Amphibian

WKOK: Why It’s Important To Name The Eastern Hellbender State Amphibian.  Click Here to read the story.  

Penn State Extension Master Gardener Manual Available

Whether you're new to gardening or an expert looking to sharpen your skills, the Penn State Extension Master Gardener Manual may be just what you need.  Gain horticultural knowledge in a variety of topics, including:
-- Herbaceous, woody, and native plant care;
-- Vegetable gardening recommendations;
-- Tree fruit and small fruit cultivation;
-- Pruning, composting, plant propagation, and other gardening practices;
-- Soil health and fertilizer management;
-- Integrated pest management;
-- Plant disease and weed control;
-- Lawn care, landscape design, and gardening equipment; and
-- Gardening for wildlife.
With 800 pages of science-based knowledge and 600 photographs, there’s a wealth of knowledge to be found in the Penn State Extension Master Gardener Manual.
Don't garden without it!  Click Here to get your copy.

Legislation Requiring PUC Oversight Of Pittsburgh Water Authority Headed To Governor’s Desk

Legislation-- House Bill 1490-- to place the Pittsburgh Water Authority under the oversight of the Public Utility Commission is on its way to the governor’s desk after being passed in the House Monday for the final time, said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny).
Over the last year, local and national newspapers have recounted many service issues facing PWSA. They include multi-million dollar debt and uncollectible accounts, unmetered accounts, incorrect billing, system leaks, and thousands of lead service lines, many of which have not been identified or located.
Most recently, they have been cited with non-compliance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Clean Water Act violations. These issues call into serious question the sustainability of PWSA and the health and safety of those served by the system.
“The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been grossly mismanaged,” said Rep. Turzai.  “The state had to step in.  Working in a bipartisan fashion with my good friend, Rep. Harry Readshaw, we knew something needed to be done.  We developed a solution that will provide more oversight, ensure fiscal responsibility and demand best practices.  The authority needs to be held to the same standards as the private sector.”
“This legislation is about consumer protection and the health and safety of those served by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority,” said Rep. Readshaw. “This is really a commonsense approach that will move the system in a positive direction.”
A consultant’s report issued in August by Infrastructure Management Group called the PWSA “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure.”  The report noted a dysfunctional culture at the authority and exposed the fact that about 20 percent of PWSA’s 250 employees are out of work on short-term disability.
In addition, a recent performance audit released by the state auditor general’s office highlighted several of the deficiencies with the PWSA’s operation.  They include:
-- Under a 1995 agreement with the city, the PWSA is required to provide 600 million gallons of free water each year.  However, the PWSA does not track how much water the city uses annually because many city-owned properties are not metered.
-- Between 2012 and 2016, PWSA’s financial position went from a positive balance of $7.7 million to a negative balance of $15.7 million.
-- As of Dec. 31, 2016, PWSA has a debt load of $842.5 million, which has grown by $43.2 million since Dec. 31, 2012.
-- PWSA is not able to bill for approximately 50 percent of clean water its system produces due to leaky pipes and unbilled accounts.
-- Since 2014, four individuals have served as executive director.
-- Billing irregularities frequently occur, including a complete lack of billing for thousands of customers for a period of several months arising from changes in PWSA’s billing system and the installation of new meters.
Rep. Turzai said PUC oversight is crucial to correcting the authority’s long-standing difficulties. The PUC has the power to demand sound financial practices, systemic upgrades to infrastructure and reliable service delivery to customers.
A House Fiscal Note and summary is available.
Gov. Wolf is expected to sign the legislation into law.
PUC Commitment To Customers
“We appreciate the unique nature of the situation involving the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and understand that interacting with the PUC is going to be a new process – for PWSA staff, for local and state leaders, and for Pittsburgh area residents,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “The challenges facing PWSA are complex and will require the involvement of all stakeholders. For our part, the PUC is committed to addressing these issues in a transparent manner, working to ensure an open flow of information to the families, businesses and institutions who depend on these services.”
With the approval of this legislation, the Commission can now move forward with an implementation process for assuming jurisdiction over PWSA – which will be adopted at a future PUC public meeting. This will detail the process for PUC consideration of rates and tariffs; infrastructure improvement plans; billing and customer service issues; and other applicable regulations.
Under the legislation, the PUC will begin accepting complaints from PWSA customers on April 1, 2018. The Commission is in the process of training staff and making other necessary preparations to handle those complaints. Until April 1st, customers with complaints should continue to contact the PWSA customer service center, at 412-255-2423.
“The Commission has extensive experience with water and wastewater utilities across the state – ranging in size from a few dozen customers to more than 600,000,” Chairman Brown noted. “Over the years we have worked with many ‘troubled’ systems, which has taught us that there are no instant or magic solutions. It will require time, hard work and a shared commitment to developing and implementing the plans that will move Pittsburgh forward.”
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PUC Encourages Shopping For Electric, Natural Gas Service On Black Friday

The Public Utility Commission Tuesday encouraged consumers to add electric and natural gas shopping to their Black Friday “To Do” lists, and offered its “Top Five” list of tips for energy savings and shopping.
“With winter on our doorstep, now is a good time for consumers to review their energy bills and explore ways to reduce both usage and costs,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown.  “That includes taking time to shop for their electric and natural gas supply, both of which can be easily done using PUC websites from the convenience and comfort of their homes.”
Chairman Brown encouraged consumers to visit the PUC’s PAPowerSwitch.com and PAGasSwitch.com websites for detailed information about energy shopping and current offers from various energy suppliers, and provided a “Top Five” list of Black Friday tips for consumers, including: Shop for Energy Offers; Consider Conservation and Energy Efficiency; Ask for Assistance; Monitor Energy Bills; Report Problems; and Shopping for Energy.
The PUC recommends that consumers regularly review their contracts and bills from electric and natural gas suppliers to be familiar with key factors like pricing, term length and fees, including monthly fees and cancellation fees.
With current price and consumption information in hand (more information below), PAPowerSwitch.com and PAGasSwitch.com are excellent online sources for detailed information about offers from various energy suppliers.  
The PUC also encourages consumers to discuss energy issues with family members, especially relatives who may be older, may not have Internet access or may be initially uncomfortable with shopping for alternate electric or natural gas supply.
Conservation and Energy Efficiency
Consumers should review monthly bills to better understand their actual energy usage. That information can help evaluate the potential savings related to conservation and efficiency projects, such as switching to LED lighting, weatherization, programmable thermostats and other improvements.
Steps undertaken now can help save money and provide greater comfort and safety during the coldest and darkest months of the year. PAPowerSwitch and PAGasSwitch also include interactive tips and videos on how to conserve energy, save money and stay more comfortable.
Ask for Assistance
Information about various energy assistance programs also is available on the PUC’s website, as part of the Commission’s annual “Prepare Now” campaign.
Consumers on limited or fixed incomes are encouraged to call their utility company about programs to help heat their homes or pay their energy bills, such as Customer Assistance Programs and Low Income Usage Reduction Programs.
Other aid also may be available, such as grants under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – which is administered by the Department of Human Services.  
Monitor Energy Bills
Consumers should carefully monitor their monthly utility bills, along with the financial accounts used for bill payment.  Any questions or concerns about pricing, payment processing, meter readings or changes in energy consumption should be raised with utilities as soon as possible.
Report Problems
The PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS) is available to help consumers resolve disputes with utilities, but it is important that any potential issue be immediately brought to the attention of the utility. 
In most cases issues are quickly resolved – but more challenging problems may require intervention through the informal or formal complaint process. BCS can be reached toll-free at 1-800-692-7380.

CFA Now Accepting Applications For Solar Energy Grants, Loans

Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday announced the Solar Energy Program guidelines have been updated to include grants in addition to loans.
The program is open and accepting applications, offering almost $30 million in funding to promote the use of solar energy in Pennsylvania.
“The Solar Energy Program is vital in our efforts to make Pennsylvania a leader in clean energy,” Gov. Wolf said. “Developing new renewable energy sources including solar is critical to ensuring Pennsylvania has a balanced and diverse energy mix that maintains our position as a major energy producing state.”
The SEP provides financial assistance in the form of loans and grants that are used by eligible applicants to promote the generation and use of solar energy and the manufacture or assembly of solar equipment in the Commonwealth.
The program is administered jointly by the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Environmental Protection under the direction of the Commonwealth Financing Authority.
The updated guidelines expand the program from only offering loans to now offering both loans and grants.
For solar equipment manufacturing projects, SEP will offer up to $40,000 in loans or $5,000 in grants for every new job created within three years.
For energy generation or distribution projects, SEP will offer loans up to $5 million or $3 per watt, whichever is less, and grants up to $1 million or $1.50 per watt, whichever is less.
SEP loans will be repaid over a period not to exceed 22 years for equipment and 15 years for real estate.
Applicants must provide matching funds of at least $1 for every $3 of loan funding awarded, and at least $1 for every $1 of grant funding awarded.
Applicants eligible for SEP funding include:
-- Businesses – A corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, limited liability company, business trust or other CFA-approved commercial entity. The term also includes not-for-profit entities.
-- Economic Development Organizations – A nonprofit corporation or association whose purpose is the enhancement of economic conditions in their community.
-- Political Subdivision – A municipality, county, or school district.
The SEP is one of several ways that the Wolf Administration is promoting solar energy in the Commonwealth.
Last week, Gov. Wolf signed new legislation to bolster solar energy in Pennsylvania known as Act 40. This legislation requires that for a renewable facility to generate credits, the electricity the facility generates must be delivered to an electricity distributor operating within the commonwealth.
Prior to Act 40 taking effect, Pennsylvania allowed these credits to be generated anywhere in the PJM region, which stretches from North Carolina to Illinois. This resulted in an oversupply of credits, and Pennsylvania consumer dollars going to support solar facilities in other states.
The passage of Act 40 will help ensure that Pennsylvania is receiving the environmental and other benefits of solar development here in the Commonwealth.
Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis and must be received 60 days before the next scheduled CBF Board meeting.  That means the upcoming deadlines are November 24; January 20; March 22; May 18; and July 20.
The first approvals for the Solar Energy Program are expected in early 2018.
For more information and to apply, visit the CFA Solar Energy Program webpage.  Questions should be directed to DCED’s Center for Business Financing at 717-787-6245.
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DEP To Help Increase K-12 Students’ Watershed Knowledge And Stewardship

More Pennsylvania students will know the watershed they live in and take action to protect freshwater resources. This is the goal of a new statewide K-12 environmental education task force in which the Department of Environmental Protection plays a lead role.
“Many people don’t know what a watershed is,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We’re excited to collaborate with environmental education leaders statewide to help change that, starting with young students.
“The earlier people learn how human actions affect their local network of streams and rivers, the better our chances of preventing and reducing water pollution.”
The 20-member Pennsylvania Watershed Education Task Force is funded by a $300,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Stroud Water Research Center heads the task force. DEP is joined by the Department of Education, PA Association of Environmental Educators, DCNR Bureau of State Parks, and Millersville University on the leadership team.
DEP Environmental Education staff will help ensure that Pennsylvania work plans developed by the task force meet the educational requirements of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement signed by the Commonwealth, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, and the District of Columbia.
The task force will work to improve students’ watershed education and stewardship, and increase environmental literacy in general, by--
-- Training approximately 400 traditional and non-traditional educators;
-- Developing environmental literacy-focused partnerships and a network of watershed education providers;
-- Increasing the number of NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training grant proposals; and
supporting and delivering Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience programming, providing local, hands-on watershed learning experiences.
The task force held its first meeting November 17 at Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, State College, Centre County.
For more on educational resources and grants, visit DEP’s Environmental Education webpage.
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Bridge To 2030: Grid To Green Energy Purchasing Nov. 29 In Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh 2030 District will host another in its series of Bridge To 2030 workshops, this one on Grid To Green Energy Purchasing on November 29 at the Gateway Center, 603 Stanwix Street in Pittsburgh from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Speakers include--
-- Lindsay Baxter, Program Manager, PA Environmental Council: How does energy get from the generation source to your building? What is PJM Interconnection and how does it work? How can you decarbonize the energy used in your building? Get the technical foundation to understand how energy works in Pennsylvania.
-- Robin Cunningham, Green Products Specialist, WGL Energy: How does the typical procurement process work? How does the process change when you include renewable energy certificates (RECs) or other renewable options? How can you spur the development of new solar projects with your purchase? Get the supplier-side perspective on energy procurement.
-- Christopher Townsend, Attorney, Clark Hill: What are the most important procurement considerations and opportunities? How do you identify and mitigate risk? What are the benefits of contract review by a knowledgeable third-party in addition to your in-house counsel? Energy contracts are important, and complex, documents. Get the buyer’s representative perspective.
-- Marty Altschul, University Engineer, Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon University has made a big commitment to renewables in their energy purchases. Learn why RECs were the right choice for CMU, the questions they asked going through the process, and where the program is likely to go in the future.
The workshop is presented in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council, American Institute of Architects and the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance and is eligible for GBCI and AIA HSW credits.
Click Here to register or for more information.

House Environmental Committee Cancels Meeting For TODAY

The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee has canceled its meeting for today.

House Committee Hears Conflicting Views On Alternative Natural Gas, Electric Ratemaking To Encourage Conservation, Renewable Energy

The House Consumer Affairs Committee Monday held a hearing on House Bill 1782 (Delozier-R-Cumberland) providing for alternative ratemaking for natural gas and electric distribution companies designed to encourage energy efficiency improvements and distributed energy resources such as renewable energy projects (sponsor summary).
Public Utility Commissioner Andrew Place told the Committee the Commission has been actively studying the alternative ratemaking issue since it approved a Secretarial Letter in December of 2015 soliciting comments on the issue.
On March 2 of this year, Place said the Commission issued an order seeking further comments on alternative ratemaking for electric, gas and water utilities, including-- decoupling mechanisms generically, including Lost Revenue Adjustment Mechanisms (LRAs) and Straight Fixed / Variable (SFV) Pricing, as well as Cost Trackers (also known as Surcharges or Riders), Choice of Test Years, Multiyear Rate Plans, Demand Charges, Standby and Backup Charges, and Demand Side Management Performance Incentive Mechanisms.
He said comments are now being reviewed by the Commission.
Place said the PUC is neutral on the legislation, but urged the Committee to review the language of the bill to determine how to resolve conflicts with existing law on issues like improper single-issue ratemaking, retroactive ratemaking and violation of the just and reasonable rate standard.
Terry Fitzpatrick, President of the Energy Association of PA, said his group supports the legislation because it modernizes the state’s current utility ratemaking system, but notes the bill does not mandate alternative ratemaking and the flexibility for more competitive pricing of energy.
Greg Dudkin, President of PPL Utilities, supported the legislation saying decoupling with multi-year rates will best provide for consumers because of the reliability of pricing, price-adjustment refunds and accessibility to energy conservation measures.  Click Here for more.
Bill Roland, Director of Government Affairs for Peoples Natural Gas, said they see House Bill 1782 as a way to help customers and expand the economy, adding because of the changing dynamics of energy use, flexibility in pricing is needed for customers.
Eric Miller, Director of Policy for the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance, said the legislation is a critical step to getting away from a rate model that compensates utilities based on how much energy they sell and not necessarily the other services like energy conservation.
Tanya McCoskey, Acting PUC Consumer Advocate, said alternative ratemaking mechanisms “pose significant risks to Pennsylvania ratepayers by disrupting this careful balance” of utility benefits and consumer protections.
She said decoupling is not a just solution to the decrease in energy use because the trend would most likely continue.
John Evans, PUC Small Business Advocate, echoed McCoskey’s concerns and said the legislation is not needed.
John Cox, Director of Rates and Regulatory Affairs at PA American Water, also supported the bill recommending the bill be expanded to operators of water and wastewater facilities.
He added because of the overall decrease in water use, the current utility rate structure penalizes conserving water because the price minimizes the effect of being resourceful.  Decoupling also limits rate shock and provides revenue directly for infrastructure improvements.
Also providing testimony to the Committee were: Jackson Morris, Director of the Eastern Energy Program; Leah Gibbons, Director of Regulatory Affairs for NRG Energy; Kristina Montgomery, Manager of Regulatory and Government Affairs for Just Energy; Elizabeth Triscari, Deputy PUC Small Business Advocate; Patrick Cicero, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Utility Law Project; and David Ciarlone, Manager of Energy and Carbon Strategy for Arconic Inc.
Written comments were provided to the Committee by Mark Sybist, Senior Program Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council; PJM Power Providers Group; Dick Webster, Vice President, PECO; Rod Nevirauska, PA American Water; and Richard Riazzi, President, Duquesne Light Co.
Click Here to watch a video of the hearing when posted.
PA Environmental Council Comments
According to an analysis of the bill distributed to the Committee by the PA Environmental Council, the bill will allow for the voluntary use of alternative ratemaking mechanisms by natural gas and electric utilities, including decoupling; performance-based rates; formula rates; multiyear rate plans; cost-recovery mechanisms; rates to support and fully recover the allocated costs to deploy infrastructure and distributed energy resources; or rates based on a combination of these approaches.”
The Council continued, saying, “The ways in which energy, particularly electricity, is produced and used continue to evolve, and thus, it is sensible to allow the mechanisms for setting rates to also evolve. We appreciate that the bill’s language is not prescriptive, allowing each utility the freedom to adopt new ratemaking mechanisms that best meet the needs of its territory, pending the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) ultimate approval.
“We believe this aspect of the legislation is important because utilities differ in many ways, including the age and condition of infrastructure, the populations they serve, and the amount and types of distributed generation in their service territory, and thus a one-size-fits-all ratemaking structure across all utilities is not appropriate.
“We are particularly interested in the potential to use alternative ratemaking to reduce or eliminate the so-called “throughput incentive,” which ties utility compensation to the amount of energy used, thus putting the utility business case at odds with energy efficiency and distributed generation efforts.
“Performance-based ratemaking, in comparison, ties utility compensation to its financial and operational outcomes, rather than the amount of natural gas or electricity used, thus allowing the utility to develop an innovative business case that serves the needs of ratepayers, helps to achieve environmental outcomes, and allows for the expansion of emerging technologies.
“Perhaps most importantly, the legislation allows for alternative ratemaking, but does not mandate it, allowing each utility, with PUC approval, to set the ratemaking mechanism(s) that best meet the needs of its customers.”
Rep. Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery) serves as Majority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: rgodshal@pahousegop.com. Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by sending email to: RepCaltagirone@pahouse.net.
(Based in part on reporting by PA Legislative Services.)
Legere: House Bill Aims To Modernize Utility Rates For A Greener Grid

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