2016-02-13 / Viewpoints

Ray of hope for smart energy

BY JACKSON MORRIS

(Jackson Morris is a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He was assisted in this essay by NRDC Fellow Amanda Levin.)

Your front-page article on Ted Peet and Lee Calhoun installing a solar array to meet the energy needs at a Potter County homestead was much appreciated. It also serves as a reminder of the need to take a fresh look at the clean energy opportunity in Pennsylvania, with its huge economic and health benefits.

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.

Spurring investment in energy efficiency and renewable wind and solar power should be a central component of the state’s policies. 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 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.

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.

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 $3.00 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.

As you reported, solar power has 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.

More than 33,000 Pennsylvania homes now have solar, placing the state 14th in the nation for household solar installations.

Pennsylvania should continue along a path 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.

So, by all means, as we progress into 2016 let’s roll up our sleeves and give the state’s energy mix a proper spring cleaning.

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