Natural gas riches from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale may undermine efforts to win public backing for sustainable-energy policies if people believe that the sudden surge in domestic gas has solved America’s energy-supply problems, officials warned on Wednesday.
Executives heading sustainable-energy initiatives said there’s a risk the public will lose interest in energy conservation and efficiency because the state’s booming natural gas industry is producing large quantities of cheap fuel that’s readily available for power generation, home heating and transportation while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
“To what extent does the Marcellus Shale distract us from important initiatives for sustainable energy?” asked Roger Clark, manager of sustainable development at The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based social investment organization. “If the view is, ‘Happy days are here again’ that could be problematic.”
Nationally, vast reserves of shale gas–recently made economic by a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling–are seen as the key to reducing US dependence on foreign oil, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, and generating thousands of jobs.
Clark spoke at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Sustainable Energy Board, a body established by the state’s Public Utility Commission to provide oversight and assistance to regional sustainable energy boards that fund projects like wind farms and solar-energy installations.
They are believing that natural gas is the salvation for rising energy prices, rather than seeing the need to invest in energy efficiency.
He said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a strong supporter of the gas industry, may be encouraging any waning of demand for renewable fuels.
“Corbett isn’t talking as strongly about renewable energy,” said Clark, at the meeting in Harrisburg.
In western Pennsylvania, a program to promote the use of biomass as fuel has been put on hold because of cheap gas, said Joel Morrison, administrator for the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund.
“There’s a different attitude out there,” Morrison said. “What’s not being talked about is renewable energy.”
Stacy Richards, program director for the Energy Resource Center at SEDA Council of Governments, a group of 11 counties in central Pennsylvania, said state funding for sustainable energy programs has been cut as natural gas production has risen.
She said the gas rush–which has seen around 4,000 Marcellus wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 2008–is persuading people to downplay the need for renewable energy.
“They are believing that natural gas is the salvation for rising energy prices, rather than seeing the need to invest in energy efficiency,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Sustainable Energy Fund, a body set up in 1999 by the PUC during Pennsylvania’s electric deregulation proceedings, disbursed $7.4 million in loans and grants during the 2010/11 financial year, and reaches out to schools through its education program, said President Jennifer Hopkins.
Projects funded during the year ended June 30, 2011 include $136,000 for a 28.8 kw solar PV installation at Farm and Garden Station in Warminster, and $750,000 for energy-efficiency improvements at AFC First Financial Corp. in Allentown.
In PECO’s southeast Pennsylvania territory, the Reinvestment Fund is helping to fund the rehabilitation of an 1880 boiler house that was part of an asbestos-manufacturing operation in Ambler, near Philadelphia.
When complete, the project will include high-performance glass, a PV system and 52 geothermal wells for a building that will contain 42,000 square feet of office space, Clark said. The renovated building will consume 44% less energy than typical office space in the mid-Atlantic region, he said.
In Western Pennsylvania, the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund has committed $414,000 this year to 10 projects including energy audits at three Excela Health facilities in the Greensburg area; a series of municipal energy assessments, and program to educate school students about wind power.
Photo Caption: Greenpeace activists gather to draw a wind turbine on the Champs de Mars, near the Eiffel tower, on September 24, 2011 in Paris.