Wolf energy plan would create jobs, save taxpayer money and help the environment
HARRISBURG, June 1 – The energy investment plan contained in Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal would create good, green jobs, save schools and municipalities money through reduced electric costs and help the environment.
Those conclusions came from a panel that included representatives of energy companies, a suburban Philadelphia school official, farmers and a high-ranking member of the Wolf administration. They testified before the House Democratic Policy Committee during a hearing Monday in the state Capitol.
“Governor Wolf’s energy investment initiative is the single-most important environmental accomplishment that could emerge from the 2015-16 budget,” said state Rep. Greg Vitali, Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, who organized the hearing.
John Hanger, Wolf’s secretary of policy and planning, said Pennsylvania fell to 50th in job creation during the Corbett administration.
To help bring jobs to the state, Wolf has proposed a $675 million economic development package funded by a bond issue which would be paid off with a severance tax on natural gas production. That package includes $225 million for his energy initiative that would help return Pennsylvania as a national leader in renewable energy, said Hanger.
“We have gone from leaders of the pack to the back of the pack with clean energy,” Hanger said, adding that has cost the state thousands of jobs.
Hanger said solar energy presents a terrific opportunity for economic development.
“Solar is as big a deal in the energy sector as shale gas,” Hanger said.
To reap the benefits from the industry, Wolf has proposed investing $50 million to re-launch the PA Sunshine Solar Program, which former Gov. Tom Corbett allowed to lapse. The program would distribute rebates to homeowners, small businesses, municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals for qualifying solar projects.
Jim Kurtz, president of RER Energy Group, said restoring the program could lead 4,000 solar projects that would create or retain 800 jobs.
“Many people think solar in Pennsylvania is either dead or in very much pain,” Kurtz said. “Implementing a new Sunshine Program will remind Pennsylvania’s citizens that solar is supported by our administration, there are rebates back into the program and solar is more affordable now than ever.”
Wolf also proposes a new $20 million program to help build new wind farms and connect them to the grid that delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers.
Michael Speerschneider, speaking for the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, said the governor’s proposal is an important commitment to a diversified energy portfolio.
“It tells us the administration is willing to work with the industry to find new ways to promote new projects, new growth and new jobs,” he said, adding the plan could provide a “kick start” to bring renewable energy companies back to Pennsylvania.
Wolf’s plan also would provide $50 million for grants to businesses, schools and nonprofits for energy-efficiency projects,
The North Penn School District has used an energy management program to reduce consumption by 37 percent from 2018 to 2012 and save $2 million per year, said Thomas Schneider, the district’s director of facilities and operations. But he said more could be done with state aid – no matter how small the amount.
He said a $10,000 matching grant would allow the district to replace inefficient perimeter lights around four elementary schools, saving $1,000 per year.
“Larger grants to replace gymnasium lighting could reap … greater savings,” Schneider said.
Pennsylvania’s agriculture would benefit from the Wolf plan, which would provide $20 million in grants to make Pennsylvania farms more self-reliant through energy-efficiency improvements, wind power and bio-digesters that turn organic waste into electricity.
Brett Reinford, owner of Reinford Farms in Juniata County, said the business bought an anaerobic digester in 2008, but that would not have been possible without state aid. He said the digester has greatly helped his farm.
“Our digester project produces enough electricity to power 80 homes and made our farm more sustainable by completely reducing our need for fuel oil,” Reinford said.
Wolf’s plan also would provide $30 million to expand the market for clean, advanced energy technologies, $25 million for grants to business parks and manufacturers to build the last few miles of natural gas pipelines and $30 million for grants to businesses that employ new technology to produce power and heat on site.
Also testifying were Michael Matotek, owner of Open Sky Energy; Andrew Sharp, deputy director of the Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Sustainability; Ellen Lutz, president of Clean Markets, a company that grows market share clean energy technologies; and Mike Brubaker, owner of Brubaker Farms in Lancaster County.
The governor’s initiative is part of continuing budget negotiations. Pennsylvania’s fiscal year ends June 30.