WE LEARNED many new things at City Council's hearings on Philadelphia's energy future last week. Here's one: components of natural gas include propane, butane, methane . . . and here, in Philadelphia, civic pain.
We're referring to the pain of listening to experts on Philadelphia's future as an energy hub and wondering why the city wasn't having these discussions years ago.
And the pain of realizing that PGW's private ownership could be a key to the city's future as an energy hub, but Council killed that prospect just last week primarily because of "process" instead of the potential outcome for the city as a whole.
And the pain over the concern for 1,600 public-sector jobs standing in the way of Philadelphia becoming a global energy center with a hundred times that number of jobs.
It was less than 10 years ago that scientists discovered the staggering amount of gas that could be extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation, and it upended the future of domestic energy.
Right now, all that gas gets transported to the Gulf coast, which has a long-term infrastructure as an energy hub to handle this. But Philadelphia has almost everything it needs to compete with Houston, and even more - its Northeast Corridor location makes it close to energy demand centers, and now, its proximity to Marcellus Shale could be an additional boon provided a pipeline could be built in time.
Clearly, this could be a thrilling moment for the city - except it isn't. The city's current ownership of PGW is too cumbersome for the utility to be a key player in this energy future, but Council's killing of the bid for $1.86 billion from UIL puts future ownership in question. Council says that a public-private partnership might work. Except experts say that there's no time to put such a deal together.
Last week's hearings made clear that the city's energy future should have been a key point in the proposals to sell PGW. That might have been the case if the hearing that happened last week had happened about five years ago, when the Marcellus Shale gold rush was beginning.
That would have been around 2008, when the drilling techniques and the understanding of just how big the gas stores were converged to create a gas rush.
Philadelphia paid little attention to Marcellus. Council took up the issue in 2011 - at which point it called for a moratorium on drilling, and moved to ban PGW from buying gas from the Marcellus Shale. We guess it's not surprising that a politician or two might have responded to pressure from environmental groups.
But it's this track record that makes the city's energy future being in Council's hands so worrisome. Is its resistance to the PGW sale due primarily to narrow political interests that obscure the benefit to the city as a whole?
Still, City Council deserves credit for elevating this issue, although its timing was completely backwards. Hearings like these might have helped refine the terms of PGW's sale.
The mayor also deserves criticism: he, too should have seen the sale as part of the city's future role in energy, and made the case to Council that the city might be transformed with a sale.
But, no. So now, the city debates the value of keeping 1,600 public-sector jobs vs. becoming a global hub for energy.