PA Coal Alliance: Study proves need for energy policy examination

Posted February 11, 2014

MONESSEN – A state-based study showing increasing energy costs are straining the budgets of lower and middle-income Pennsylvanians said Wednesday the results underscores the need to examine the factors that are driving up costs and compromising the reliability of the electric supply, a spokesman for a pro-coal group said Wednesday.

The study by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricty, which updated a 2011 state-based analysis, said 49 percent of Pennsylvania households now spend an average of 19 percent of their after-tax income on energy. It also found that energy bills for the poorest Pennsylvanians take as much as 72 percent of their family incomes.

The results prompted John Pippy, chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, to reiterate his call for legislative hearings to find out why costs are increasing and why PJM Interconnect, the organization that operates the regional power grid, did not have access to reasonably priced wholesale power during the recent cold weather.

“The alarming thing is that this study was completed before PJM had to request special permission to exceed a $1,000 per megawatt-hour price cap on wholesale power during the recent polar vortex,” Pippy said.

“As a result, many Pennsylvanians are in for considerable sticker shock as they receive their electric bills over the next couple of months.”

PJM said the extended cold period was historic, noting seven of the 10 days of highest use of electricity in its history have occurred this month.

The average wholesale price in the PJM region last year was $42 per megawatt-hour, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Pippy noted federal emission standards resulted in the closing of three coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania last year, and recently proposed standards would force the closing of many more.

“The new standards fail to take into account what is achievable with current technology,” Pippy said. “As a result, the federal government is unilaterally taking coal out of the nation’s energy mix, much to the detriment of Pennsylvania’s economy and the state’s energy consumers.”

Coal-fired electricity is significantly more affordable than some other energy sources, and is much less susceptible to wild price swings, he explained. Moreover, technology has helped to greatly reduce coal emissions of sulfur, nitrogen, particulates and even carbon, he noted, although imposing unachievable standards would have the effect of discouraging the advance of clean-coal technology.

“As I have often said, no energy source is perfect, but coal has its place in the nation’s energy mix,” Pippy said.

Last week, as bitter cold winter weather entered a second week across Pennsylvania and many other states, state Sen. Tim Solobay questioned the fall closures of two former coal-fired plants, Hatfields Ferry in Greene County and Mitchell in Union Township.

“I said that October was just ahead of the winter season and about eight months from summer,” said Solobay, who along with state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, have protest the local power plant closures. “I said, ‘You’re taking away 2,000 megawatts of power and your now concerned about blackouts or brownouts?’ They said no. Then we had our first cold spell and (PJM) issued concerns (Jan. 7) Then we had a second cold spell and (PJM) asked to exceed a cap on natural gas.”

At that time, PCA called for legislative hearings to investigage reasons for the supply shortages.

“We don’t need to choose between environmental quality and affordable, reliable electricity, Pippy said Wednesday. “We can have both.”