Wednesday, May 31, 2017

PUC Alerts Consumers Of June 1 Price Changes For Electric, Urges Customers To Shop For Better Rates

Public Utility Commission Wednesday alerted consumers that on June 1 most electric utilities will adjust electric generation prices charged to non-shopping, or default service, customers.
“The upcoming price changes, combined with the increase use of electricity that we typically see during the long, hot days of summer, makes this a very good time for consumers to evaluate their energy options,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “We encourage consumers to carefully review their electric bills, understand the rates they will be paying and explore the PUC’s official electric shopping website,, for details on competitive offers, along with tips for energy conservation and savings.”
In most areas of Pennsylvania, consumers can choose who supplies their electricity, based on lowest price or other factors, such as renewable energy.
Customers not choosing a competitive electric generation supplier continue to receive default service from the utility, with the cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) billed as a pass-through cost to the customer based on wholesale market prices.  
By law, the utility cannot make a profit on electric generation, and the PUC does not control the price of the generation portion of the electric bill., the PUC’s nationally recognized website for electric choice, provides consumers with valuable information on the shopping process.  A model for other states and countries, the website enables consumers to quickly compare offers from competitive suppliers.
As of June 1, electric distribution companies with more notable changes in their PTCs include:
-- PPL Electric, with an estimated increase from 7.439 cents to 8.493 cents per kWh, a 14.2 percent increase;
-- Penn Power, with an estimated increase from 5.884 cents to 6.674 cents per kWh, a 13.4 percent increase;
-- West Penn Power, with an estimated increase from 5.975 cents to 6.602 cents per kWh, a 10.5 percent increase;
-- Wellsboro Electric, with an estimated increase from 6.931cents to 8.192 cents per kWh, an 18.2 percent increase;
-- Met-Ed, with an estimated decrease from 6.964 cents to 6.018 cents per kWh, a 13.6 percent decrease; and
-- Citizens’ Electric, with an estimated decrease from 8.16 cents to 6.64 cents per kWh, an 18.6 percent decrease.
Other electric utilities, including Duquesne Light, PECO and Penelec, will see only a slight change in their respective PTCs, though the Commission still encourages customers to explore their options in those service areas.
Chairman Brown noted that when generation prices change, consumers often see an increase in supplier offers being promoted via door-to-door sales in neighborhoods, over the phone, through the mail or online.  
She encouraged consumers to thoroughly review their options and understand all terms and conditions before entering into any supplier contract.
“We urge consumers to be aware of all their energy shopping options and make informed decisions based on their specific needs,” Chairman Brown said.  “Shoppers can use the PUC’s official website to confirm details of a particular offer and then compare that offer to others that may be available –  helping make informed decisions about their energy supply.”
Enhanced consumer protections crafted by the Commission allow customers to switch suppliers, or return to default service, in as few as three business days once the utility has been notified.
Statewide, nearly 2.1 million residential and business customers receive their electric generation from competitive suppliers, representing approximately two-thirds of the Commonwealth’s entire electric load.
For more information, visit the PUC’s website.

EPA Announces Brownfields Revitalization Grants, Including 8 In PA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday announced 172 communities across the country will receive funding for brownfields site revitalization to help local governments redevelop vacant and unused properties, transforming communities and local economies.
Eight Pennsylvania communities received $2.1 million in grants, including—
-- Earth Conservancy, Hanover Township and Nanticoke, Luzerne County: Bliss Bank, Parcels E and F and Espy Run cleanups, each $200,000;
-- Greenville, Mercer County community-wide assessment, $300,000;
-- North Side Industrial Development Company, Allegheny County assessment, $600,000;
-- Turtle Creek Valley Council of Governments, Allegheny County assessment, $300,000;
-- Washington County Development Authority assessment, $300,000; and
-- Westmoreland County Redevelopment Authority assessment, $600,000.
“EPA is committed to working with communities to redevelop Brownfields sites which have plagued their neighborhoods. EPA’s Assessment and Cleanup grants target communities that are economically disadvantaged and include places where environmental cleanup and new jobs are most needed,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “These grants leverage considerable infrastructure and other investments, improving local economies and creating an environment where jobs can grow. I am very pleased the President’s budget recognizes the importance of these grants by providing continued funding for this important program.”
The Trump Administration is proposing cuts to the EPA Brownfields Program in FY 2018.
Click Here for the complete list of grants awarded.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Receives Highest Charity Navigator Rating For 3rd Year

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Berks County recently earned a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America's largest independent charity monitor. This is the third consecutive year that the organization holds the highest possible rating.
The Sanctuary received this top distinction due to its impressive financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency. Hawk Mountain received an overall score of 92.24, with a perfect score in Accountability and Transparency.
These metrics show that the organization is focused on ethical practices and a solid relationship with its donors and supporters.
"Hawk Mountain's exceptional 4-star rating sets it apart from its peers and demonstrates it trustworthiness to the public," according to Michael Thatcher, President and CEO of Charity Navigator. "Based on the 4-star rating, people can trust that their donations are going to a financially responsible and ethical charity when they decide to support the Sanctuary."
Thatcher goes on to explain, "Attaining a 4-star rating verifies that Hawk Mountain Sanctuary exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in the same area of work. Only 25 percent of the charities we evaluate have received at least 2 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Hawk Mountain Sanctuary outperforms most other charities in America."
"It is important that our supporters understand that we are using their donations wisely to accomplish our mission of conservation and education," said Hawk Mountain Interim President Dr. Keith Bildstein. "We are proud of what we do at the Sanctuary, and we know that we do it well and with utmost financial responsibility."
Hawk Mountain's rating and other information about charitable giving are available free of charge on the Charity Navigator website.
The 2,500-acre Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is the world’s first refuge for birds of prey and is open to the public year-round by trail-fee or membership, which in turn supports the nonprofit organization’s raptor conservation mission and local-to-global research, training, and education programs.
For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary website or call 610-756-6961.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Sanctuary, Like them on Facebook, Follow on Twitter, visit them on Flickr, be part of their Google+ Circle and visit their YouTube Channel.  Click Here to support Hawk Mountain.

Joint Conservation Committee Hearing On Act 101 Recycling Programs June 13

It has been 29 years since Act 101 was enacting and the recycling and planning programs have been working nearly unchanged since then.
The Committee and several legislators, including Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, have said it’s time to take a look at updating Act 101.
The hearing will be in Room 8E-B of the East Wing of the Capitol Building starting at 9:00 a.m.  Arrangements are being made to webcast the hearing.
Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) serves as Chair of the Joint Conservation Committee.
For more information, visit the Joint Conservation Committee website, Like them on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Committee.
For more background on Act 101, visit DEP’s Recycling In Pennsylvania webpage.

Northeast Greenhouse Gas Initiative Holds Next Auction June 7, Prices Lowest Since 2014

The U.S. Energy Information Administration Wednesday reported the northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will hold its 36th auction for carbon dioxide (CO2) emission allowances on June 7.
In the previous auction, held in March, more than 14 million allowances were sold at a clearing price of $3.00 per short ton of CO2, the lowest price in more than three years. CO2 allowance prices in March were down 16 percent from the clearing price of $3.55/ton in the previous auction in December 2016 and 60 percent lower than the peak of $7.50/ton at the December 2015 auction.
RGGI is the nation’s first mandatory cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions, covering the nine states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
The original objective of the RGGI was to reduce the carbon emissions of each state's electricity generation sector by 10 percent from their 2009 allowances by 2018.
However, the combined effects of lower natural gas prices and state renewable portfolio standards have resulted in regional CO2 emissions falling below the original RGGI cap, and the cap was reduced in 2014 by about 45 percent from the 2009 level.
Electric power sector CO2 emissions from the nine RGGI states accounted for approximately 7 percent of total U.S. electric power CO2 emissions in 2016. Total CO2 emissions from member states in 2016 were 79.2 million tons of CO2, lower than the revised cap of 86.5 million tons CO2.
Even though RGGI reduced its emissions cap, actual emissions have remained well below the cap, resulting in a surplus of allowances. In some cases, surplus allowances can be banked for use in future years. However, the availability of too many banked allowances reduces the need to purchase new credits.
Significant slack in the RGGI allowance market is not an entirely new phenomenon. In several auctions between 2010 and 2012, some allowances were left unsold. Following the release of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan in August 2015, bids were submitted for more than three times the total number of RGGI allowances offered, creating demand that led to higher allowance prices.
The downward trend in clearing prices since the start of 2016 reflects relatively low demand for RGGI allowances.
The March 2017 auction generated $43.1 million that the RGGI states can use for a variety of purposes, including those that support energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct energy bill assistance, and greenhouse gas abatement programs.
In the March 2017 auction, demand for allowances continued to decline, but all allowances offered were sold.
Recent revisions to the program included an adjustment to the reserve price, which effectively sets a minimum allowance price. For 2017, this reserve price is $2.15 per ton CO2, up from $2.10 per ton CO2 in 2016.
In 2014, the RGGI states announced two interim adjustments to the RGGI cap to account for CO2 allowances that were banked in 2009 through 2013. The combined effect of these two adjustments lowers the cap by 139.5 million tons of CO2 from 2014–2020.
[Note: Carbon dioxide emissions in Pennsylvania have already dropped by 27 million tons between 2007 and 2014 as a result of the retirement of coal-fired power plants and new natural gas-fueled plants taking their place and additional EPA controls on mercury emissions at coal-fired power plants.]

Budget Challenges Part I: Will General Assembly Continue Systematic Dismantling Of DEP’s Core Programs?

June 5 is the opening day of this year’s sprint to a final state budget for next fiscal year beginning July 1.  Legislators are facing a combined $3 billion state budget deficit for this year and next just to continue most current programs.
On April 4 House Republicans passed an FY 2017-18 budget-- House Bill 218 (Saylor-R- York)-- which again proposes to make at least a 6 percent across-the-board cut to environmental agencies (and most agencies) for the 14th year in a row.  Their budget also has an $800 million hole without any revenue to fill it.
The Republican budget reduces DEP funding by $8.9 million from the current year (mostly personnel-- $7.3 million), and cuts funding for Conservation Districts-- $376,000, West Nile/Zika Virus Control-- $338,000, the Susquehanna, Delaware and Potomac River Basin Commissions, Ohio River Sanitation Commission and the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
All these new House Republican cuts are on top of a 40 percent cuts in the General Fund monies going to DEP and a 25 percent cut in staff since 2003.  Funding for DEP is now below 1994 levels.
Meanwhile, the General Assembly’s own budget has increased 21 percent in the last 14 years AND they had an $118 million surplus in FY 2015-16.
House Republicans are also apparently content to let DEP raise permit fees to make up for the cuts they make in DEP’s General Fund appropriations.  
DEP this year is pursuing permit fee increases for the Safe Drinking Water, Laboratory Accreditation, Radiation Protection, Noncoal and Coal Mining  Programs, Air Quality and possibly the Oil and Gas Program to fill widening gaps in its budget.
Unfortunately, permit fee increases only start delivering needed funding two or three years after the need is identified.
At the same time House and Senate Republicans (and Governors) have been cutting DEP’s budget, legislators have complained about why it seems to take longer each year for DEP to process those permits.
Legislators have refused to take any responsibility for causing the permit delays, even though they cut DEP’s staff by 25 percent.
Meanwhile, DEP has, within its limited resources, major initiatives underway to improve its permitting processes, including ePermitting, Regional Permit Coordination, shifting permit work between regions and addressing the fact that 60 to 80 percent of the 30,000 applications it receives from engineers and consultants are incomplete or have deficiencies.
Still, legislators are threatening to cut DEP’s budget more until they perform.  It’s like saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” There is no right answer that will satisfy some legislators.
The proposed House Republican budget also does nothing to address the fact DEP does not have the resources to meet minimum federal requirements in the Safe Drinking Water, Air Quality, Surface Mining and other federal programs.  
In his budget testimony, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell pointed to the need to deal with other budget-related issues, like--
-- Reauthorizing the $2/ton recycling fee that is due to expire in 2020. The Senate now has Senate Bill 646 (Killion-R-Delaware) on its Calendar to eliminate the sunset date;
-- Funding the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program lost its main revenue source when the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax was phased out and now has no adequate replacement funding sources; and
-- Reauthorizing the Storage Tank Environmental Cleanup and Pollution Prevention Programs. The Senate now has Senate Bill 649 (Yudichak-D-Luzerne) on its Calendar to fill a funding gap in the Storage Tank Program and authorize the cleanup and prevention programs.
DCNR’s budget did not escape the cuts either.  House Republicans cut DCNR’s budget by $2.8 million and Heritage Parks is reduced by $625,000.  Republicans, like Democrats, also rely on the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to finance state park and forest operations.  
DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said the House Republican budget would deal a “crippling blow” to the agency and lead to layoffs.
House Republicans did propose what they called an “Endowment Fund” that was described verbally as a new Fund that would do everything in Gov. Wolf’s proposed $387.4 million bond issue to fund operating costs and provide funding for several environmental programs and State Police fee proposal.  
Since April 4 there have been no new details about what would actually be included in this Endowment Fund or how it would be funded.  And none appear to be forthcoming outside of Senate-House budget negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to put any budget proposal on the table.
At the same time the General Assembly is busily cutting state funds to DEP and other state agencies, the Trump Administration is proposing 30 and 40 percent cuts in FY 2018 federal grants designed to pay states for the administration of federal environmental programs.
DEP receives 30 percent of its funding from the federal government, 50 percent from fees and some fines and 20 percent from the state General Fund.
As noted, 13 years of state budget cuts have resulted in many basic environmental programs not having the resources to meet minimum federal program requirements.  Cuts from the federal side would only hollow them out further.
DEP has already been forced to do triage on its programs to determine which functions will live and which will die.  More cuts simply mean permit reviews get slower and more things DEP used to do won’t get done anymore.
It’s interesting how legislators always seem to come down hard on DEP, when the Department of Labor and Industry spent $170 million with one computer contractor for a project that didn’t work, the State Police spent $800 million on a statewide radio system that still doesn’t work and the Department of Education spent over $1 billion since 2008 on private education testing where the result is not necessary to receive a high school diploma.
And the General Assembly cut DEP’s budget by 40 percent and staff by 25 percent and complains it can’t get permits out on time?
The General Assembly and Governors also cut project funding to the Growing Greener Program by 75 percent in spite of the fact that it gets real results on the ground like hundreds of local parks and trail projects, conserved more than 80,000 acres of threatened open space, and restored hundreds of miles of streams and waterways, protected more than 78,000 acres of farmland, restored more than 1,600 acres of abandoned mine land, and helped reduce flooding and water pollution through 400 watershed protection projects and more than 100 drinking and wastewater treatment improvements.
I’ve learned one thing being around state environmental programs for 40 years, legislators and Governor’s can do anything they want to do in the budget, even in the leanest of budget years, with the right leadership.
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