Pennsylvania Launches Energy Independence Plan
Author: Jon Hurdle
The state set a target of producing 1 billion gallons of biodiesel and ethanol by 2017, about equal to the amount of fuel Pennsylvanians buy from external sources, costing about US$30 billion a year.
"We need to keep those dollars at home and put our people to work building the state's energy independent future," said Governor Ed Rendell at a news conference.
If approved, the program would establish the Mid-Atlantic state as one of the leading biodiesel producers in the United States, which currently has a total national capacity of 225 million gallons per year, said Kathleen McGinty, Secretary of the state's Department of Environmental Protection.
The biofuels initiative, which needs legislative approval, would require every gallon of gasoline sold throughout Pennsylvania to include 10 percent ethanol, a standard that already applies in the Philadelphia area.
Diesel would have to consist of up to 20 percent of soy or other renewable oil.
President George W. Bush focused national attention on energy security and clean fuels during this year's State of the Union speech when he called for a 20 percent reduction in gasoline consumption by 2017.
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Pennsylvania's program, called the Energy Independence Strategy, will also promote conservation by providing rebates for consumers who swap inefficient air conditioners and refrigerators for models that use at least 15 percent less energy.
It will also pay up to 50 percent of the cost of installing solar panels on a home or small business, and encourage the use of "smart meters" in homes to reduce the use of energy at peak periods.
John Hanger, president of PennFuture, an environmental group, called the plan "the best energy package that any state governor has come forward with." When implemented, he said it will allow about a quarter of Pennsylvania's 5 million homes to be fueled by wind or solar power within a decade.
Hanger said the plan has an "excellent" chance of being approved by lawmakers because it will attract widespread public support. "If a legislator is looking for a ticket to political oblivion, he will attack this plan," he said.
The plan will provide US$244 million to household appliance rebates and solar power grants; US$106 million to venture capital, grants and loans to energy companies, and US$500 million to clean energy projects. It will be funded by a charge on electricity usage of about 45 cents a month for residential customers, US$3 a month for the average business, and US$74 a month for a typical industrial user.
Without implementing the program, Pennsylvania would have to build five nuclear or coal-fired power plants at a cost of about US$10 billion to meet growing electricity demand over the next 15 years, Rendell said.
The governor, a Democrat beginning his second term, said he will present another plan to address climate change in the next 90 days.