The world must become carbon neutral by mid to late century to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, according to a United Nations report released in November.
And with Pennsylvania producing almost 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, it has a duty to work toward carbon neutrality.
Rather than increasing the production of natural gas, Gov. Tom Wolf and the new legislature must work toward reducing all fossil-fuel use and shift to renewable energy.
More than three-quarters of the energy consumed in Pennsylvania comes from fossil fuels — coal, natural gas and oil — while only about 4 percent comes from renewable sources like wind and solar, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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In recent years Pennsylvania has created a friendly environment for natural gas production while doing little to increase renewables. It has forgone the imposition of a severance tax on the natural gas industry, extended the largest tax break in state history to natural gas cracker plants, and provided millions in grant money for the conversion of fleet vehicles to natural gas.
And while natural gas has the environmental benefit of displacing dirty, carbon-dioxide-emitting coal-fired power plants, it also has significant climate change drawbacks: The combustion of natural gas emits significant quantities of carbon dioxide. And the main component of natural gas is methane, another potent greenhouse gas.
Fugitive methane emissions pose a significant climate risk as well. Finally, the abundant supply and low price of natural gas has impeded the growth of wind and solar by making them less cost competitive.
If Pennsylvania wants to achieve carbon neutrality, the Wolf administration and the new legislature will have to enact policies that reduce all fossil-fuel use and increase renewables. Here are some things the commonwealth should do:
• Increase its alternative energy portfolio standard. This is the percent of electricity Pennsylvania electric distribution companies must obtain from renewable sources. Currently, Pennsylvania lags behind other states, requiring only 8 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. New Jersey requires that 17.88 percent come from renewables by 2021.
• Reinstate the Sunshine Solar Program. This popular program, which provided rebates to homeowners and small businesses that install solar systems, was discontinued at the end of 2013 due to lack of funding.
• Modify Act 129. Changing this law would encourage electric distribution companies to further reduce customer demand for electricity and extend these demand-reducing incentives to natural-gas distribution companies.
• Regulate methane. To reduce fugitive emissions, the state must enact more stringent methane regulations.
Let’s hope the new governor and legislature will accept their responsibility to work toward carbon neutrality for Pennsylvania.