Pennsylvania commits to 26% GHG reductions amid federal inaction, US emissions increase
- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, D, on Tuesday signed an executive order committing the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26% by 2025, and 80% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
- The new goals are unlikely to mean near-term changes for utilities due to Pennsylvania's deregulated markets, but advocates on the ground say they are an important symbol as the state tackles clean energy policy.
- Wolf's order also establishes a GreenGov Council to help the state meet a trio of electric vehicle, efficiency and renewable energy goals that will apply to governmental agencies.
Pennsylvania is now at least the 17th state to set greenhouse gas reduction goals in line with the Paris Climate Agreement — a trend environmental advocates say is essential to combating climate change in the face of antipathy at the federal level.
Wolf's announcement stood in stark relief to new analysis published the same day by the Rhodium Group, concluding U.S. energy-related carbon emissions rose 3.4% last year, reversing three years of decreases. Pennsylvania's new goals, however, are not expected to result in any immediate changes for the state's utilities.
The Rhodium findings were an eye opener for many around the energy sector, showing the United States slipping further behind its 2015 Paris commitment as a booming economy and a rollback in regulations fueled emissions. Pennsylvania's commitment yesterday is part of an effort by some states to keep the United States on track to meet the Paris commitment — even as President Donald Trump has committed to withdrawing the country from the global agreement in 2020.
"In the absence of leadership from the federal government, states and cities are stepping up and doing their part to reduce emissions," Wolf said in a statement, calling climate change "the most critical environmental threat facing the world."
Along with the statewide greenhouse gas reduction goal, Wolf also announced state agency performance goals to:
- Reduce overall energy consumption by 3% annually, and 21% by 2025, relative to 2017 levels.
- Replace 25% of the state's passenger car fleet with battery electric and plug-in electric hybrid cars by 2025.
- Procure renewable energy to "offset at least 40 percent of the commonwealth’s annual electricity use."
The GreenGov Council's role will be to "encourage and coordinate the incorporation of environmentally sustainable practices" into state policy, planning, operations, procurement and regulatory functions, according to the governor's announcement.
The politics of policy
Because Pennsylvania is a deregulated electric market, the new goals won't translate into a binding target that would directly impact the state's power mix, said Sierra Club senior campaign representative Tom Schuster.
"The importance of setting this goal is mostly political, in terms of the governor signaling this is a policy priority for him," Schuster told Utility Dive. "This is the first time we've had any governor willing to step out and say 'this is the direction we'll be going.'"
FirstEnergy, in a statement to Utility Dive, said it didn't anticipate any "direct impact on our distribution utilities."
Pennsylvania ranks third in carbon emissions, nationally, and its Alternative Portfolio Standard includes 8% of Tier 1 resources, which "is fairly modest compared to other states," said Schuster. The top tier of renewable resources includes new and existing solar and wind, and other sources, while a lower tier encompasses a wider range: from demand side management, municipal solid waste and some coal technologies.
The majority of the state's current generation comes from nuclear and natural gas, however, with just 4% coming from renewables.
The state's nuclear fleet is another issue to be grappled with, said Schuster. The state has two plants scheduled to retire — but Sierra Club doesn't want to see them replaced with natural gas. On the other hand, "you also don't want to just prop up aging nuclear plants indefinitely," he said.
Exelon's Three Mile Island facility is slated to close this year, and FirstEnergy Solutions will retire its Beaver Valley plant two years later.
FirstEnergy was still reviewing Wolf's order yesterday, but company officials said the company welcomes the leadership on clean energy issues.
"Having a comprehensive state policy is the direction we need to go," Schuster said. He pointed to the Rhodium analysis and the 2018 National Climate Assessment, as proof that rapid action is needed. "We're running out of time. We were making progress, and now we're starting to go back in wrong direction."
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