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TOMB: Shapiro’s Senseless Expansion of Alternative Energy

In 2004, Pennsylvania implemented one of the most aggressive mandates to adopt wind and solar energy. At the time, less than 1 percent of net energy generation came from these sources. In 2023, after nearly $1.5 billion in subsidies, wind and solar generated less than 2 percent.

So, what’s the point?

That’s the question Gov. Josh Shapiro must answer before any expansion to Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS). Instead, he is doubling down on uneconomical fuels and technologies, resulting in higher electricity bills and a less reliable infrastructure.

AEPS requires Pennsylvania suppliers to provide 18 percent of retail electricity sales from more than a dozen alternative energy sources.

One measurable benefit of AEPS has been burning waste coal for electricity generation, cleaning up millions of tons of refuse from nearly 800 waste piles left by centuries-old mining practices. Analysis from the Appalachian Region Independent Power Producers Association (ARIPPA) shows this industry has reclaimed more than 1,200 miles of polluted streams and 7,200 acres of land.

However, restructuring AEPS threatens to defund this worthwhile effort. Perversely, five of 15 waste-coal plants have closed because of environmental regulations and market forces hostile to coal.

“This is a huge concern for us,” said Jaret Gibbons, ARIPPA’s executive director.

Shapiro’s latest proposal, the Pennsylvania Reliable Energy Sustainability Standard (PRESS), mandates that 35 percent of electricity come from politically favored sources, such as wind, solar, and small modular nuclear, by 2035. PRESS also calls for another 10 percent from hydropower and batteries and 5 percent from low-emission sources, like certain kinds of natural gas generation.

The governor lauds the importance of this proposal to reduce carbon dioxide.

Yet, Pennsylvania has cut emissions annually, including a 10.8 percent reduction from 2022 to 2023—thanks to the expansion of natural gas. If emission reduction is the goal, the governor should pursue policies that bolster natural gas and nuclear, which can back up solar and wind when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

AEPS sales totaled about 25 million megawatt-hours in the 2021–22 reporting year. That’s enough to power 2.4 million homes. Less than one-third of those megawatt-hours came from wind and solar.

In under six months, the Homer City coal-fired power plant could produce energy equal to a year’s worth of AEPS-subsidized wind and solar power. Homer City, however, closed last year due to burdensome regulations.

AEPS touts the state’s 606 megawatts of solar capacity as enough to power more than 79,000 homes, or just about 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s 5.7 million housing units.

In 2007, AEPS predicted the commonwealth would install nearly 6,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2013. However, as of May 2022, we’ve seen less than one-quarter of that amount. Even if AEPS met this target, the value would hinge, like solar, on wind’s dependence on nature’s vagaries.

The AEPS report claims the program created thousands of Pennsylvania jobs. Whatever jobs were “created,” it is impossible to produce net benefits by forcing more expensive, less reliable energy sources into an economy. Studies by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity have concluded that such efforts result in economic losses, including fewer jobs and higher prices.

Industry leaders are growing wary of this transition to less reliable energy. David Taylor, head of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, called Shapiro’s vision of an expanded AEPS “an environmental disaster, a threat to public safety, a danger to American national security, a disgrace on labor and human rights, and an abuse of Pennsylvania ratepayers.”

Costing taxpayers billions of dollars is bad enough, but the most immediate concern is the effect of more “green” mandates on power grid reliability. Industry and government officials have repeatedly warned of power shortages caused by an overreliance on wind and solar.

As Shapiro says, we don’t have to choose between jobs and our environment. But his proposal is bad for both. Pennsylvania’s energy policy must reward reliability and affordability and develop proven sources, like fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Twenty years after AEPS’s enactment, wind and solar still require subsidies while contributing meager amounts of unreliable energy. Will doing more of the same with PRESS produce anything different?

Again, what’s the point?


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One Year Later: Lessons Learned from Legendary ‘Texas Freeze’

The soundbites and images were startling. Blackouts. Burst pipes. People dead from extreme cold and carbon monoxide poisoning. This week marks one year since the coldest weather in generations hit Texas.

A year later, energy policy experts in Pennsylvania and across the nation are looking for lessons to be learned from those failures.

“There were multiple errors, but green energy failed at a critical time, and we no longer had fossil fuels and baseload power systems to back them up,” says H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., a Texan serving as senior fellow on environmental policy for the Heartland Institute.

“What led to the crisis and the blackouts is 20 years of bad policies pushed by politicians on both sides of the aisle from Washington, D.C. and here in the state of Texas that were propping up one form of unreliable variable generation over another, which is good natural gas and clean coal thermal generation that has been diminished because of these market-distorting policies, subsidies if you will,” said Jason Isaac, a four-time Texas state representative now serving as director of Life: Powered at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).

“That’s why we’ve seen this incredible growth in this variable generation that’s now a third of our grid in the state of Texas in wind or solar that we’re dependent on when the wind blows or the sun shines, and there’s no backup generation requirements for those sources of electricity generation,” he said.

Solar was virtually non-existent in terms of electricity generation at the time of the storm. Wind dropped to 1.5 percent of the electric generation.

“It’s, again, 33­­ percent of our grid,” said Isaac. “That’s unbelievable, and over 90 percent was coming from the other 66 percent of the grid, natural gas, coal, and nuclear.”

“There’s a reason we never had something like this before in the middle of winter,” said Burnett. “That’s because we never had so little reliable baseload power as part of our system.”

It should serve as a wake-up call for other states, especially at a time when federal and state legislators are pushing the Green New Deal and related measures.

“The national takeaway on the crisis that we experienced in Texas, the energy capital of the world, if you will, is that we need good, reliable natural gas, coal, and nuclear,” said Isaac.

The Sunrise Movement, a youth movement to “stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process,” sees things differently. Sunrise said in an email it is “building an army of young people” to make climate change an urgent priority across America.

“(We want to) end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people,” according to its website.

And Sunrise has its eyes on Texas, where a primary election is scheduled for March 1.

“We have an opportunity to send our own — Jessica Cisneros and Greg Casar — to Congress to fight for us and win a Green New Deal,” Sunrise said in an email to supporters. Republicans, corporate Democrats, and Big Oil want you to forget what happened one year ago in Texas, but we’ll never forget.”

Pointing to the remarks from Sunrise, Isaac said they are laughable at best.

“The Green New Deal is about controlling everything we do in our lives and increasing the cost of energy, and expensive energy hurts the poor more than anyone else,” said Isaac. “If we had the Green New Deal here in Texas, our electric bills would be triple what they were, the reliability of electricity would be laughable, and deaths last year would have been much more horrendous than they already were.”

“Sunrise wants to double down on the policies that created the very problem,” said Burnett. “We had 200 people die last year during this weather.”

The indoor temperature of Burnett’s home was in the 50s after he lost power.

“The Sunrise Movement wants more wind and more solar, and that’s great, unless the wind stops blowing like it did last February and snow falls and covers all your solar panels,” said Burnett. “To be fair, the wind came back up, but by then, the turbines had frozen, (and) you don’t want turbines turning on and throwing icicles across highways.”

Isaac holds firm to his position on the need for natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy.

“Wind and solar is habitat and environment destroying technology that increases the cost of electricity, does nothing to improve the environment, and just winds up hurting the poor most,” says Isaac. “It increases the unreliability of our grid and the instability.”

It was a close call in Texas last year, one that should cause other states to wake up to what Isaac calls a “cult-like fascination with decarbonized electricity.”

“We were nearly four minutes away from a complete grid collapse because renewable energy was not producing any electricity,” says Isaac. “That would have been completely devastating to Texas. We would still be rebuilding today. Millions of people would have fled the state because of this, and just thousands of people would have died.”

“ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) made some terrible decisions,” says Burnett. “After the power outage, they wanted to get the lights on immediately, so they said, ‘natural gas plants, you have to ramp up,’ but then they cut off power to switching stations for natural gas and for storage for natural gas, so there was no power heating the pipelines or the switches and the plants were using gas at an enormous rate, and those pipelines and switches froze.”

“That would not have happened with a coal plant because coal typically has six months of capacity sitting around in a stockpile,” says Burnett. “They’re not going to run out if the switching stations freeze, but those coal plants had closed, so there were multiple errors.”

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