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  • Jackson Morris and Amanda Levin

Spring cleaning in the Keystone State: How the Clean Power Plan provides a roadmap for more jobs and

Springtime has finally arrived in Pennsylvania. And with the snow finally melted, the birds getting rowdy, and the smell of the trees waking up at last in the air, it's a perfect time to take a fresh look at the clean energy opportunity currently before decision-makers in the state.

A new factsheet NRDC released today highlights the huge economic and health benefits of clean energy for Pennsylvania, and provides a helpful guide to the state's compliance options under the EPA's Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from fossil-fueled power plants. State policies have already helped create a burgeoning clean energy economy here in our state. And Pennsylvania has a substantial opportunity to expand and build on its clean energy achievements, while simultaneously meeting (and even exceeding) its EPA emissions reduction target. Increased investments in clean energy will create new jobs, expand the economy, reduce pollution, lower electric bills, and improve public and environmental health across the state.

The Opportunity

Power plants account for nearly 40 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions. Under the approach proposed by EPA under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, states have been afforded great flexibility in complying with these limits. This flexibility empowers states to design plans that take into account each state's unique economic situation and needs, as well as the ability to pursue a regional, multi-state approach to cutting carbon pollution. As a net exporter of energy, Pennsylvania can see significant benefits from such multi-state approach: In fact, a recent study by our regional grid operator, PJM, (and this helpful Analysis Group summary of that study) show that a mass-based, regional approach would be the most cost-effective and flexible option for the region. Indeed, a regional approach would be about 30 percent cheaper than a patchwork of individual state plans, and would allow Pennsylvania to continue to export power while working with other states to reduce pollution. Or even more simply put by my friend David Weiskopf of NextGen Climate America: keep it clean and cooperate.

Energy efficiency measures, like the evaporative cooling system on this Grantville farm, can help Pennsylvania create new jobs and cost-effectively comply with the EPA's Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from existing power plants. (photo:Lance Cheung for the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Regardless of the precise mechanics Pennsylvania ultimately decides to pursue, spurring investment in energy efficiency and renewable wind and solar power should be a central component of the state's plan, as the new NRDC fact sheet issued today shows. Based on NRDC modeling, ramping up energy efficiency and renewable energy would drive the creation of 5,100 new Pennsylvania jobs, and save residents and businesses an estimated $456 million on their electric bills in 2020 alone.

Smarter energy use

Energy efficiency is an effective way to reduce pollution while growing the economy because smarter energy use lessens the need to generate electricity from fossil fuel-fired power plants that pollute our air and thus harm our health.

Energy efficiency investments create good-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, and energy auditing and installations. In fact, Pennsylvania already has more than 118,000 clean energy jobs, a majority in energy efficiency. With expected future investments in clean energy, this sector is set to expand. Energy efficiency investments have already delivered marked economic and environmental benefits to the state, and now have the added value of being able to play a key part in smart Clean Power Plan compliance.

Helping people optimize their energy use through programs such as weatherization or rebates for highly efficient appliances costs far less than building new power plants, and is often even cheaper than operating existing ones. Under Pennsylvania's energy efficiency standard, Act 129, the state's utilities run programs to cut energy waste in homes and businesses. These programs have already produced significant energy and bill savings. PECO customers have saved roughly $331 million and PPL customers have saved at least $428 million over the first 6 years of these programs. In total, the state's residents and business have saved more than $4.2 billion in energy costs. For every dollar utilities spent on energy efficiency, customers received almost $3 in energy benefits alone.

Energy efficiency programs are low-cost and drive huge benefits to consumers, and Pennsylvania still has vast untapped, low-cost energy efficiency opportunities just waiting to be tapped. In fact, the state's own analysis found Pennsylvania could cost-effectively cut another 27 percent of expected future energy use over the next 10 years with only currently available and cost-effective technology. Boosting the state's energy efficiency programs is an easy and cheap way to grow the economy, reduce pollution under the Clean Power Plan, and protect public health.

Pennsylvania's Renewable Energy Potential

Renewable energy is another low-cost option for Pennsylvania to reduce pollution while strengthening our economy. The state already has more than 1,340 megawatts of wind power installed--enough to power more than 1.3 million homes. Wind generation in the state has almost doubled over the last five years and has grown a staggering 1,150 percent in the last 10 years. These wind installations have:

  • brought more than $2.7 billion in new capital into the state;

  • supported as many as 2,000 jobs; and,

  • provided rural communities with more than $4 million annually through land-lease payments.

Solar power has also become a profitable industry in our state. Pennsylvania is home to more than 470 solar companies, with more than 2,300 employees, making the state one of the largest solar employers in the nation. In addition, more than 33,000 Pennsylvania homes now have solar, placing the state 14th in the nation for household solar installations. In 2013 alone, the solar industry invested more than $144 million in Pennsylvania.

The future is now

The Clean Power Plan empowers our state to chart a path forward that can make it a national leader in cleaner, more efficient, and more reliable energy, all while cutting the dangerous carbon pollution that is wrecking our climate.

Crafting a plan that maxes out energy efficiency and renewable energy (like wind and solar) will save consumers money on their bills, create jobs, and spur the local economy. The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for the Keystone State to create the foundation for a Pennsylvania that future generations will want to call home. So, by all means, let's roll up our sleeves and give the state's energy mix a proper spring cleaning.

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