Editorial | Conservation, Alternative Sources

Pa. needs this energy strategy

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Lawmakers should jump at creating new jobs, protecting consumers from electrical blackouts and price spikes, and reducing reliance on dirty and foreign fuels.

President Bush has been begging Congress to pass that kind of legislation since 2003.

Yet they're balking at the opportunity in Harrisburg.

Gov. Rendell's innovative Energy Independence Strategy, now stalled in the state Senate, promotes renewable energy, encourages the production of home-grown fuels, and rewards conservation.

It's what Pennsylvanians want and need. They're reeling from high home-heating and gasoline prices. They're concerned about electricity price spikes when rate caps expire in 2010. They're worried about global warming.

Pennsylvania should seize this rare chance to act ahead of looming crises, instead of waiting until they're upon us.

This energy proposal, introduced in February, creates an $850 million fund to provide grants and loans for investments in renewable energy and efficiency technologies and to give consumer rebates for solar power installation and energy-efficient appliances. It's garnered strong support from small businesses, unions, environmentalists, and the state consumer advocate.

It fosters the state's nascent transformation from a fossil-fuel economy to a sustainable energy economy, attracting more jobs and investments like those already secured from some of the world's largest alternative energy companies, such as Gamesa, BioEnergy and Conergy.

The strategy wisely stabilizes increasing electricity demand by requiring utilities to maximize conservation measures first, before building new power plants or transmission lines. It also offers consumers "smart meters," to help them voluntarily and automatically reduce their electricity use at times when it's most expensive, typically during summer heat waves.

To reduce reliance on foreign oil and improve national security, Pennsylvania would aim to produce 900 million gallons of fuel from soybeans, agricultural waste and other crops within 10 years.

The $850 million fund would come from a "public benefits" charge on electric bills, averaging about 45 cents a month ($5.40 a year) per household. Through conservation and rebates, it could, in turn, save the same customers $73 a year. Fifteen other states, including New Jersey, reinvest such charges in conservation and sustainable energy programs.

Pennsylvanians interviewed in early June by the Susquehanna Polling & Research firm overwhelmingly supported the fee, especially if it's used to increase conservation, stabilize prices and reduce dependence on foreign oil. In fact, 78 percent said they'd pay up to $1 a month.

Yet some Republicans in Harrisburg won't support the bill because they see the $.0005 per kilowatt-hour charge as an overly burdensome "tax."

Clearly, the public is way ahead of elected officials. It knows a small investment now would save consumers money in the long run, bolster domestic energy supply, and clean up the environment.

There's no good reason to sit on this energy package. It ought to be passed.