Plan to Create Public Power Agency Wins House Panel’s OK

(GantDaily Graphic)

HARRISBURG – The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved six bills, including legislation that would create a public power agency to combat escalating electric prices.  

“On Jan. 1, the last electric rate caps will expire, subjecting more people and jobs to the harms of a deregulated electric industry,” said state Rep. Camille “Bud” George, committee chair. “House Bill 1909 would give Pennsylvania’s citizens and businesses a fighting chance to obtain electricity at fairer prices and enable the Commonwealth to secure electric generation for future needs.” 

Under HB 1909, a five-member Commonwealth Energy Procurement and Development Agency, representing citizens, business, industry and agriculture, would:

? Buy power as cheaply as possible from the wholesale market on behalf of commercial and industrial businesses and consumers who do not shop for power;

? Enter into long-term power purchase agreements to secure lower prices and relieve congestion by promoting construction of Pennsylvania-based power plants;

? Build or buy power plants to create competition in the flawed wholesale market; 

? Collect and distribute rebates to consumers from formerly regulated power plants that have been charging high energy and capacity prices even though ratepayers already paid for the plants;

? Create the position of Commonwealth Energy Advocate to advocate on behalf of ratepayers and monitor federal energy agencies. 

“Pennsylvania industries have not saved money where rate caps have expired, and a typical company is paying as much as 72 percent more,” said George, D-74 of Houtzdale. “The unwarranted higher prices are an economic millstone around the neck of Pennsylvania manufacturers.” 

George said 12 states have differing versions of public power agencies, including Illinois, which was able to provide lower prices and $1 billion in rate relief, and Maryland, which approved a $2 billion rebate after it opted to buy electricity and build generation. 

The legislation, supported by AARP and the Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania and approved on a 15-11 committee vote, now heads to the full House for consideration.

The committee also approved two other bills introduced by George: 

? HB 2578, OK’d on a 17-9 vote, would conditionally require heating oil and off-road diesel fuel sold in the state to contain a 5 percent biodiesel blend after April 30, 2011, and a 10 percent blend after May 1, 2013. If supplies permit, sulfur limits would apply to heating oil sold after April 30.

? HB 2591, approved unanimously, expands the ability of the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority — Pennvest — to direct federal money to rural stormwater management and nonpoint source remediation projects. 

The panel also voted 22-3 to approve a measure offered by Rep. Jesse White, D-46 of Allegheny, Beaver, and Washington counties, which would enable property owners to assume the underlying mineral rights if specific conditions are not met. HB 1436 provides that mineral rights are considered abandoned after 10 years of nonuse unless the subsurface owner files a claim. 

In a unanimous vote, the committee approved a measure from Rep. Daniel Deasy, D-27 of Allegheny County, which would address land development in geologically sensitive areas. HB 1450, spurred by the September 2006 landslide in Kilbuck Township, Allegheny County, would improve reporting and safeguards involving proposed earth disturbances in hazardous areas.

HB 2601, offered by Rep. John Siptroth, D-189 of Pike and Monroe counties, provides for the testing of environmentally friendly and efficient technologies within state agencies. Approved on a 25-1 vote, the Green Technology Implementation Act, establishes criteria that the technology must meet to be considered for testing and use by the state.

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