Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Climate Change Impacts in Pennsylvania and the Benefits of a Clean Energy Transition

Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing
Testimony of Thomas Schuster
On behalf of the Sierra Club
Regarding: Climate Change Impacts in Pennsylvania and the Benefits of a Clean Energy Transition

       I             Introduction

My name is Thomas Schuster and I am a Senior Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club in Pennsylvania.  The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest non-profit environmental advocacy organization in the United States, with approximately 24,000 members in Pennsylvania.  My testimony today will address misperceptions about the cost of confronting climate disruption.  Not only is inaction on climate disruption much more costly than mitigating it, but a transition to a clean energy economy will actually create jobs and savings on balance.

     II.            The Need for Action to Address Climate Disruption

The costs of failing to adequately deal with climate disruption, caused mainly by carbon pollution, are immense.  By the end of the century, the northeast as a region is expected to see an additional 57 days per year (nearly 2 more full months) of temperatures over 95 degrees.[1]  This will have severe consequences on our health, our economy, and the infrastructure and natural systems on which we all depend.  Higher average temperature leads to worse air quality, and in turn more hospital admissions and premature deaths, particularly among children.  It leads to the spread of vector-borne diseases that were once only problems in the tropics.  It leads to more frequent intense storms, which can damage our homes and threaten our lives with high winds and flooding.  It also threatens our economy.  A 10-year flood in Allegheny County costs over $8 billion to clean up,[2] and that is money that can’t be invested in growing our regional economy.  These damages will only become more severe if we don’t curtail carbon pollution.  Agriculture currently employs more people in Pennsylvania than extraction of coal, oil, and gas combined.[3]  The sector is projected to suffer from extreme heat, droughts and storms, and could shed many thousands of jobs.  These are but a few examples of the impacts that will touch every aspect of our lives.

It has been recently estimated that allowing global average temperatures to rise by 3 degrees Celsius, rather than 2 degrees (which we are already very likely to experience), will reduce annual economic productivity by 1% per year.[4]   This equates to over $6 billion per year in lost productivity in Pennsylvania.  That is from a one degree differential; even higher temperatures are quite likely if no additional action is taken, and the economic losses would accelerate.  It has also been estimated that every decade of delay in taking action to reduce climate disrupting pollution increases mitigation costs by about 40%.[5]

Pennsylvania makes an outsized contribution to climate disruption.  Pennsylvania is the source of about 1% of global carbon pollution,[6] despite comprising less than 0.2% of the world’s population.  While it is true that neither Pennsylvania nor the United States can solve the climate disruption problem on our own, it is also obvious that due to our disproportionate contribution to the problem, our national leadership on the issue is necessary if we are to reach an international solution, and Pennsylvania will be a key part of a national solution.

  III.            Meeting Clean Power Plan Requirements

On June 2, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced a proposal that would limit, for the first time, the carbon pollution from existing power plants.  The draft rules for Pennsylvania require a reduction in carbon pollution intensity (or pounds of pollution per MWh of electricity) by 31% between 2012 and 2030.

We are well on our way to meeting this target, according to our internal analysis.  Coal power plant retirements that have occurred or been announced since 2012 will achieve at least 14% of the required reduction.  Our existing energy efficiency requirement for utilities, if continued at current levels, will achieve an additional 14%, while the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards will achieve more than 23% of our requirement.  Together, these three tranches get us more than halfway to Pennsylvania’s goal, just by maintaining the status quo.  If we increase our clean energy requirement to 20% per year by 2020, and our efficiency target to 1.5% per year, we would achieve about 96% of our required reduction.  These higher targets would merely put us on par with most other states in the northeast.

  IV.            Benefits of Clean Energy and Efficiency

In addition to reducing carbon pollution from the electric sector, efficiency and clean, renewable energy offer numerous other benefits.  I want to focus on the benefits of renewable energy specifically, because it is often misunderstood.

a.     Renewable Energy Reduces Electricity Prices

Numerous studies have shown that addition of renewable energy into the electricity mix causes the most expensive, least efficient fossil fuel generators to operate less, which lowers electricity cost.  Most recently, it was found that the eleven states with the highest amount of wind energy installed have seen electricity prices decrease slightly since 2008, while in the remaining states, the price of electricity has increased by nearly 8% over the same time.[7]  A Pennsylvania-specific analysis of a hypothetical doubling of our renewable energy targets projected that savings from price suppression would outstrip direct costs by a factor of at least 2:1.[8]

b.     Renewable Energy is Reliable

Already, the states of Iowa and South Dakota get more than 20% of their electricity from wind power, but we can go much farther than that.  PJM, the operator of the regional grid, has concluded that we can get at least 30% of our energy from wind and solar by 2026 with no reliability problems, minimal changes to the transmission infrastructure, and net savings on wholesale energy prices.[9]  The non-partisan Regulatory Assistance Project reviewed eleven studies by respected firms and concluded that renewable energy levels well over 50% are feasible given current technology.[10]

Supporters of coal often point to the extreme cold snaps of January 2014 as a reason to continue reliance on coal.  Putting aside for the moment the fact that a polar vortex is a predicted result of rising artic temperatures and melting polar ice that will increase in frequency with warmer global temperatures, it must be noted that coal did not perform particularly well during that time.  In fact, while 22% of the total generating capacity in PJM territory was unavailable during the most critical time, over 1/3 of that total (13.7 gigawatts) was coal capacity.[11]  This included the largest coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania, the Bruce Mansfield Generating Station.  According to a May PJM report, only two types of resources performed better than expected during this extreme event: demand response and wind power.[12]  Beyond PJM, wind power was also critical to preventing blackouts in the Midwest and in Texas during the polar vortex.[13]

c.      Renewable Energy Creates Jobs

Numerous studies have also shown that clean energy investments create more jobs per dollar spent, per megawatt of capacity, and per megawatt-hour of generation than comparable investments in fossil fuels.  There are already more workers in the solar and wind industries in this country than there are in the coal industry, despite coal being responsible for a much larger share of the current electricity mix.[14]  It has been projected that a transition to a 100% clean energy economy in Pennsylvania by 2050, including maximizing energy efficiency, would create half a million 40-year jobs, which is more than 10 times the number the coal industry currently supports.[15]  Widely distributed sources of energy also offer important tax revenue streams for rural towns and communities, helping keep schools, libraries, and firehouses open.

We recognize that even though the transition to cleaner forms of energy will be a net benefit to the Commonwealth, there are some coal-dependent communities that will be disproportionately impacted by this transition.  We support an effort by leaders at the federal, state, and local levels to work to understand the needs of these communities and their workers, and to develop fully funded programs to aid in the transition.  We cannot afford to postpone the transition to cleaner energy, but we also cannot put all the impacts on the shoulders of a few while the rest enjoy the benefits.

Thank you for your time,

Thomas Schuster
Senior Campaign Representative
The Sierra Club
PO Box 51
Windber, PA 15963
(814) 467-2614

[1] http://riskybusiness.org/report/overview/regions/northeast
[2] National Conference of State Legislatures, Assessing the Costs of Climate Change, http://www.ncsl.org/print/environ/ClimateChangePA.pdf
[3] US Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2012 statistics
[4] Multiple sources, cited in The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change, July 2104: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/the_cost_of_delaying_action_to_stem_climate_change.pdf
[5] Id.
[6] 2009 Pennsylvania Climate Change Action Plan.  The 2013 update to the plan did not calculate our share of global emissions.
[8] Black &Veatch, “Assessment of a 15 percent Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard”: http://pennfuture.org/UserFiles/File/Legislation/HB80SB92_Report201001.pdf
[12] Id. at 20
[14] AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report 2010; Solar Foundation National Solar Jobs Census 2010; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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