Friday, February 24, 2023

Guest Essay: Forestall Or Foresee - The Energy Transition And The Pennsylvania Legislature

By Ralph Kisberg,
Responsible Drilling Alliance, Lycoming County

This guest essay was originally published in the Erie Times on February 24, 2023--

A recent report in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on a meeting between its editorial board and State Senator Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Chairman of the Pennsylvania Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, left no doubt about Yaw’s position on the energy transition underway in our nation and the world. 

That’s bad news for most Pennsylvanians.

In discussing the late December winter storm that nearly led to rolling blackouts in the MidAtlantic region of 65 million people, Yaw suggested that increasing amounts of renewable energy were to blame for the near-miss and condemned neighboring states for adopting policies that “emphasize solar and wind power over natural gas.”

In fact, it was mostly gas that failed during the storm. 

The real threat to Pennsylvanians is the failure of Yaw and other state policymakers to plan for the ongoing transition to renewables.

To make sense of what happened it is important to understand that electricity transmission in Pennsylvania and the MidAtlantic region is run by Valley Forge-based PJM Interconnection. 

PJM’s job is to balance the grid’s demand and supply, while, in their words, focusing on keeping the lights on, buying and selling power via wholesale electricity markets, and planning for the future needs of the electric grid. Despite increasing challenges, it is a job they do well. 

In the case of the Christmas weekend storm, PJM reported that 23.2% of the power generation fleet in its 13-state region went offline unexpectedly on Dec. 24. 

A PJM website pie chart reveals gas-fired generation accounted for 70.67% of the outages, coal power 16.46% and all others; nuclear, hydro, biomass, wind and solar, combined for 12.88%.

Chairman Yaw’s focus on renewables after a massive failure in gas generation is deeply flawed. The growth of wind and solar makes PJM’s job more complicated, but not unmanageable. 

PJM understands extreme weather events can affect any type of electrical power production. They understand the intermittency of wind and solar and prepare for it, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) insists.  

The shift to increased dependence on renewables will require innovation in grid operations. 

PJM runs the system by calling on privately owned power plants to generate electricity as demand rises. The electricity is then carried over privately owned transmission lines to local distribution grids designed and mostly built over the 20th century, and constantly in need of major investment either for continuing old ways or enabling the new. 

One way to combat sudden drops in expected power sources is asking willing customers to temporarily use less electricity and lower overall demand enough to avoid the harm and expense of massive power outages. 

This strategy, combined with halting the sale of power to a neighboring grid, saved the day in December.

As neighboring states like New Jersey and others in the PJM grid and the nation are moving forward with decarbonization and electrification, Yaw would like to see exports to other states and nations grow. 

Pennsylvanians have the right to ask how this benefits us.

Despite increasing gas production during Yaw’s eleven years as Chairman, there is still no reasonable extraction tax in Pennsylvania. 

This is not the case in all other major gas producing states. 

Instead, Pennsylvanians see burgeoning environmental law violations, billions in tax subsidies for fossil fuels, avoidable intrusions on neighboring property rights and values, along with the uncontrollable cost volatility that comes with relying on an internationally traded commodity for so much of our energy needs. 

All this at a time when forming a plan to optimize the coming renewable energy economy is critical. 

The time for laying necessary groundwork for managing the eventual decline of gas production is here. 

Pennsylvania needs a plan in place to engender prosperity for affected families and communities.  

Following the meeting with Senator Yaw, the Williamsport Sun-Gazette ran an editorial against moving too fast on renewable energy, decrying “fears rooted in alarmism.” 

If the atmospheric chemistry experts at that paper want to keep their heads in the sand on climate change, many of their readers may agree. 

But most Pennsylvanians clearly do not. 

Chairman Yaw can choose to forestall the energy transition in many ways. 

Those who foresee the misery and expense of failing to address human-caused climate change, and the advantages of focusing on building a renewable energy economy, may want to communicate their concerns and aspirations to him. 

He certainly hears plenty from the gas industry. 

(Photo: PJM Chart Showing Natural Gas Power Plants Had Over 3 Times The Outages Of Other Generation During The December Freeze.)

Ralph Kisberg is a Williamsport native and founding member of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, a Lycoming County based nonprofit education and advocacy coalition. He has worked in both the oil and gas and renewable energy industries. 

[Editor’s Note: The Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure and Environmental Resources and Energy Committees announced they will host a February 27 hearing on electric grid reliability and Winter Storm Elliot in December where Sen. Yaw will promote his natural gas industry-driven theories of what happened during the December freeze. Read more here.]

Related Articles - PJM, Gas Industry:

-- PJM’s Preliminary Review Of Christmas Storm Electric Generation Failures Shows Natural Gas Units Failed To Provide Power At Over Triple The Rate Of Other Generation  [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners Haven’t Filed Annual Production/Waste Generation Reports For 61,655 Wells; Attorney General Continues Investigation Of Road Dumping Wastewater  [PaEN]

-- DEP Issued 754 Notices Of Violation For Defective Oil & Gas Well Casing, Cementing, The Fundamental Protection Needed To Prevent Gas Migration, Groundwater & Air Contamination, Explosions  [PaEN]

-- DEP Report Finds: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Routinely Abandon Wells; Fail To Report How Millions Of Gallons Of Waste Is Disposed; And Non-Compliance Is An ‘Acceptable Norm’  [PaEN]

-- DEP 2021 Oil & Gas Program Annual Report Shows Conventional Oil & Gas Operators Received A Record 610 Notices Of Violation For Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them  [PaEN]

-- Feature: 60 Years Of Fracking, 20 Years Of Shale Gas: Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Industrial Infrastructure Is Hiding In Plain Sight [PaEN]

Related Articles - Lycoming County Natural Gas Issues:

-- Citizen Complaints Result In DEP Issuing PA General Energy More Violations At Loyalsock Creek Gas Pipeline/Water Withdrawal Construction Site In Lycoming County   [PaEN] 

-- Bay Journal: Hellbender Habitat Slammed By Pollution From Shale Gas Development In PA's Loyalsock Creek - By Ad Crable, Chesapeake Bay Journal   [PaEN] 

-- DEP: PA General Energy Cited For More Water Pollution Violations, Blocking The Whole Width Of Loyalsock Creek At Gas Pipeline/Water Withdrawal Construction Site In Lycoming County   [PaEN] 

-- NO SPECIAL PROTECTION: The Exceptional Value Loyalsock Creek In Lycoming County Is Dammed And Damned - Video Dispatch From The Loyalsock - By Barb Jarmoska, Keep It Wild PA [  [PaEN]

Related Articles This Week:

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners Haven’t Filed Annual Production/Waste Generation Reports For 61,655 Wells; Attorney General Continues Investigation Of Road Dumping Wastewater  [PaEN]

-- Guest Essay: Forestal Or Foresee - The Energy Transition And The Pennsylvania Legislature - By Ralph Kisberg, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Lycoming County   [PaEN] 

-- Scranton Times Editorial: Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells, Abandoned Responsibility  [PaEN]

-- DEP Air Quality Committee To Hear Presentation On Methane Emissions Monitoring Overflight Study Of 91 Oil & Gas Facilities, Coal Mines, Landfills On March 9 [PaEN]

-- PA Supreme Court Sides With Citizens, Landowner Not Sunoco Pipeline On Reimbursing Legal Costs For Lawsuits Won By Citizens  [PaEN]

[Posted: February 24, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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