Lauded by Dems, lambasted by Republicans, IRA marks one-year anniversary

Democrats love it. 

Republicans loathe it. 

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law one year ago by President Joe Biden, and its anniversary has brought close examination on the effects it is having on Pennsylvania. 

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) marked the anniversary by stating that the IRA is lowering the cost of health care and prescription drugs for American families and seniors, including a $35 cap on insulin for seniors. Casey said the act likewise lowers energy costs from electricity bills to electric vehicles and invests in American manufacturing projects using American materials and investments in energy communities. 

“Because of this law, seniors and families are spending less on their prescription drugs, Americans are spending less on their electricity bills, and we’re on the cusp of a manufacturing renaissance in the United States,” Casey said in a statement. “By investing in America’s clean energy capabilities, we’re on track to meet our climate goals. Pennsylvania families and communities are feeling the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act, but I’m proud to say that the best of this law is yet to come.”

Casey’s colleague, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chair Senator Sharif Street, recently released a statement on the anniversary of the IRA becoming law:

“One year ago, President Biden and Democrats beat Big Pharma and ultra-wealthy special interests to pass the Inflation Reduction Act — despite every single Republican in Pennsylvania voting against it.

“The legislation is doing exactly what it promised: lowering health care and prescription drug costs for families, bringing new jobs to our communities, and spurring crucial investments in clean energy that will continue to deliver for future generations of Pennsylvanians. The progress we’ve made is all at stake in 2024 as MAGA Republicans pledge to roll back the historic legislation and increase costs on middle-class families.”

While Democrats laud the Inflation Reduction Act as an investment that is lowering health care costs while also making generational investments in clean energy, American manufacturing, and good-paying union jobs, Republicans view it as a reckless, destructive measure.

“The idea that the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress did anything to reduce inflation at all is a fairy tale,” Pennsylvania Republican Senator Scott Martin, Berks/Lancaster, wrote in an email. “In reality, the reckless and irresponsible spending in the so-called Inflation Reduction Act likely made the pressures of inflation even greater on working families over the past year. 

“Inflation is only beginning to moderate now because of the painful rate hikes enacted by the Federal Reserve, not because of anything done by the Biden Administration and their allies in Washington, DC.”

State Senator Kristin Hill-Phillips, R-York, stated that the IRA has not helped Pennsylvania.

“Washington’s problem is that they cannot print money fast enough before they spend it on a never-ending wish list,” Phillips-Hill wrote in an email. “A year later and Pennsylvanians are still stuck paying sky-high gas prices, rising interest rates continue to keep middle class families from buying a home or vehicle, and the cost of buying groceries places a huge strain on household budgets.

“Since the passage of this law, families in southern York County continue to struggle due to the disastrous policies coming from the Biden Administration. The only ‘reduction’ from the Inflation Reduction Act is the amount of money families have left over after paying all of their bills.”

Kristen Swearingen, vice president of Legislative & Political Affairs for American Builders and Contractors, has stated ABC’s opposition to the Act on grounds that it imposes tax hikes on American companies and workers, reinstates a tax on crude oil and imported petroleum products, and creates restrictive labor requirements.

Ivanti CEO Jeff Abbott, who has led the large private company to recently reach $1B in revenue, took the view that the IRA is helping to transition the U.S. economy from rapid recovery to stable growth.

“The way I see it, 2023 was a year of rebalancing and 2024 will be a year of growth,” said Abbott. “As we near the end of the year, we’ll see the breadth of inflation narrowing and businesses vigilant about tech spending.”

PA Supreme Court to hear RGGI appeal

Later today, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the injunction stopping the Department of Environmental Protection’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Regulation. 

The regulation is supported by Gov. Josh Shapiro and his predecessor Tom Wolf and was something of a political football last November when Shapiro’s Republican opponent, Doug Mastriano, opposed RGGI in favor of fossil fuels. If approved, the regulation will enable Pennsylvania to join the multi-state initiative. 

Jessica O’Neill, a PennFuture staff attorney who will be arguing the case on behalf of the  environmental advocacy nonproft and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said Tuesday that the injunction to maintain the pre-RGGI regulation status quo was wrongly issued. She will also be arguing the Commonwealth Court that heard the case last November was wrong to stop the rule from going into effect. 

“The other thing that we’re challenging,” she added, “is that we attempted to intervene on the same side as the Commonwealth, and we were granted provisional intervener status, but the Court ultimately denied our application to intervene overall. We’ve also appealed that. 

“We’ll be arguing that an environmental groups like ours that has a membership of Pennsylvanians across the state who are concerned about their health and about the climate impact, we should be able to intervene and advocate for our members’ interests in this legal challenge.” 

O’Neill said her hope is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finds that it was wrong to stop the rule from going into effect and vacate the injunction so that the right to regulation can take effect. If so, she said Pennsylvania will “start seeing the benefits that this rule will bring to our state.” 

Critics of RGGI, such as Carl Marrara, vice president of Government Affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, contend that the regulation will have a devastating effect on Pennsylvania’s economy. 

In his testimony before the Pennsylvania State Senate, Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and Community, Economic, and Recreational Development Committee in a March 2022 joint public hearing on the Economic Impacts of RGGI, Marrara called the regulation the “antithesis” to the idea that Pennsylvania is “perhaps the most regulated, safest, and provides the best working conditions of any energy producing state or nation.” 

Marrara stated that more than 8,000 predominantly union, family sustaining jobs that would be uprooted when RGGI goes into effect. 

“Thousands of indirect and induced jobs in these most impacted communities depend on this industry,” Marrara said in his testimony. Manufacturers would pay significantly more for energy, forcing their operations to locate and expand in other states. This would place Pennsylvania’s population decline on an even steeper downward trajectory. 

“It does not have to be this way,” Mararra said. 

O’Neill said that opponents of RGGI who will be likewise arguing their case are members of the General Assembly who don’t want to see the rule go into effect. 

“It’s interesting that it’s the Department of Environmental Protection and us on the one side, and the other side is various members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate who don’t want to have regulation,” she said. 

She noted that there were challenges brought before the state Supreme Court by industry, power plants, and coal-affiliated industries, but those cases were dismissed. 

RGGI sets a state-wide cap on carbon dioxide emissions. At the end of the reporting period, a power plant that is covered by the regulation will need to purchase allowances for every ton of carbon dioxide it has emitted during that period. The cap will then decline over time. 

O’Neill notes that Pennsylvania is not the first state to do these regulations. 

“The initiative has been going on for nearly a decade in other states, who have seen environmental and economic benefits from the regulation,” she said. “We’re hoping that Pennsylvania can also achieve those benefits.” 

O’Neill says there has been some misinformation in the public about RGGI. 

“There is a view that consumer electricity bills will go up,” she said. “That’s not the case. When the state conducted modeling to try and evaluate that very issue, what they found is that there might be a very small, short-term rise, like a dollar or two, in consumer electric costs.” 

O’Neill said that over time, people’s energy bills will decrease because of reinvestment in renewable energy as well as the market changing to bring older, less efficient energy sources offline. 

“That’s one source of opposition to the regulation,” she said. “Another source is the fossil fuel industry, which has promoted the narrative that this regulation will kill the energy sector in Pennsylvania. Again, I think there’s some misinformation there. I don’t believe that’s the case. We know our remaining coal plants have committed to cease operating within the next five years because they do not intend to upgrade their facilities to comply with other federal regulations. 

“This transition is coming. Our energy sector in Pennsylvania is transforming from one of coal and fracked gas into one of renewables. Transitions are hard and there are concerns in a lot of communities that this regulation will affect what was a potential economic driver of their community. But the coal plants are closing anyway. 

“With this regulation, we’re finally putting a price on the pollution that these plants are emitting and sending that price back to the Commonwealth so it can reinvest in newer energy sources we’re helping to fund that transition rather than leave these communities out in the cold.”

PPL report outlines its progress toward clean energy, diversity

Allentown-based PPL Corp. has released its 2022 Sustainability Report, providing an overview of PPL’s approach to a clean energy transition and a comprehensive record of its performance last year on energy and the environment, social responsibility, and governance and management.

“PPL is focused on excelling in safety, customer satisfaction, reliability, cost efficiency and shareholder value, all while moving energy forward through innovation and a clear and achievable clean energy strategy,” PPL President and CEO Vince Sorgi said in a release.

Highlights in the report included:

· Completing the strategic repositioning of the company to deliver competitive earnings and dividend growth for shareholders; reliable, least-cost and cleaner electricity generation in Kentucky; and safe, affordable and reliable electricity and natural gas networks for PPL customers.

· Executing its clean energy strategy toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. For example, in Kentucky, PPL has filed requests with the Kentucky Public Service Commission for approval of projects to replace its aging generation. An in Rhode Island, the Public Utility Commission recently approved investments of $290 million to improve the state’s electric and gas networks and is undertaking a regulatory proceeding to investigate the future of gas use and infrastructure in the state.

· Advancing innovation through involvement in industry and public sector research partnerships. PPL is engaged in more than 140 active research projects, with more than $20 million in federal funding, focused on key technologies to enable decarbonization; advanced dispatchable renewables; long-duration energy storage; hydrogen; advanced nuclear; and carbon capture, utilization and storage.

· Engaging with stakeholders to ensure it is focused on access, affordability and community support. The company’s stakeholder engagement approach includes consideration for just transition practices, energy equity and environmental justice. PPL’s operating companies and foundations contributed more than $13 million in 2022 to support local charities.

· Making a long-lasting impact through enterprise-wide diversity, equity and inclusion commitments. In 2022, PPL increased the number of ethnically and racially diverse employees in leadership positions to 16% and women in leadership positions to 35%.

New interactive map highlights renewable energy projects across Pa.

A new interactive map highlighting renewable energy projects across Pennsylvania was unveiled Tuesday by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. 

The map spotlights one renewable energy or energy efficiency project in each of the state’s 67 counties. According to a press release, the vibrancy and growth of the clean energy sector across Pennsylvania is a highlight of the map. 

Pennsylvanians can use the map to explore innovative clean energy products in each county and learn how to contribute to clean energy adoption. In the Susquehanna Valley, the interactive website highlights solar panels at Steelton-Highspire School District in Dauphin County. 

Ellie Kerns, climate field associate with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, said renewable energy projects are on the rise across the state. 

“In red, blue, and purple counties, and across rural, suburban, and urban counties, Pennsylvania communities are making huge strides to bring wind, solar, and energy efficient projects online at a rapid clip,” said Kerns. 

With far-reaching incentives in the new federal inflation Reduction Act, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects look to be more affordable and available to Pennsylvania businesses, residents, and non-profit organizations. These projects will help Pennsylvanians reduce air and climate pollution, save money on utility bills, and support a clean energy-based economy. 

“As we continue to move the needle towards a clean energy future we’re seeing more customers, especially school districts, realize the financial and environmental benefits of integrating solar and other renewable energy sources into their sustainability plan,” said Dan Pietropola, McClure Company’s Vice President of Business Development. 

According to the release, the total energy production of the projects highlighted in the interactive map is enough to power more than half a million Pennsylvanian homes annually. 

“So much of what we have to do is not come up with new stuff, but to invest in the things that already exist,” said State Representative Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia). “And we also have to increase our literacy on how and why we need to move to a 100% renewable energy future, because it’s not science fiction. We have all the technology we need right now to get there.”

Lehigh University students work with California transportation outfit to reduce carbon emissions

Students at Lehigh University are working with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to upgrade the power grid to meet California emissions requirements by 2040.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is included on a funding proposal list to receive a $4.68 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to fund a groundbreaking fleet electrification project.

VTA will install next-generation charging infrastructure powered by an on-site microgrid to provide clean, reliable, locally-generated electricity to fuel the agency’s fleet of zero-emission, battery-electric transit buses. The CEC funding proposal list is expected to be approved in December.

“VTA’s work to reduce stress on the state’s electric grid while converting to a zero-emission bus fleet, will benefit transit agencies across the state. We are excited and honored to have the support of the California Energy Commission on this important, groundbreaking project,” said Gary Miskell, VTA’s chief innovation officer, who has guided this effort from its inception.

Shalinee Kishore, professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate director of Lehigh’s Institute for Cyber Physical Infrastructure and Energy (I-CPIE), said students have been working on upgrading the power grid for a few years. The VTA project makes the research concrete.

Lehigh University has a Western Regional Office in the Silicon Valley as part of the school’s Path to Promise program. John Welty, vice provost of the California office, said the presence there made it easier to engage in the funded research.

“We went to a set of presentations four years ago about the start up for clean energy. One was for a grant to fund electric buses for VTA,” Welty said. “Gary Miskell was intrigued with our research, so we were able to create an opportunity for our students”

VTA is leading this electric bus charging project in conjunction with Proterra, Scale Microgrid Solutions, and Schneider Electric, with community outreach support from Lehigh University’s Institute for Cyber Physical Infrastructure and Western Regional Office.

The funding will allow VTA to complete work to deploy 1.5 megawatts of on-site solar energy at the agency’s Cerone Yard paired with a 1MW/4MWh stationary battery energy storage system and state of the art microgrid control system from Scale Microgrid Solutions. That system will help power two Proterra 1.5-megawatt fleet chargers with 34 charging dispensers. The microgrid and charging infrastructure will be linked together by a next generation switchgear and controls package designed by Schneider Electric. Clean energy generated by the new solar canopy will help lower electricity operating costs and provide increased resilience, while helping to manage stress on California’s electric grid.

Lehigh students and faculty will develop educational resources and content to inform and engage local and disadvantaged communities in benefits of transit electrification and the charging infrastructure. The Lehigh team will also evaluate and identify approaches to make the charging infrastructure resilient in the face of outages, fire hazards, and other disruptions. This will involve engaging with relevant stakeholders such as local emergency management and fire departments.

“As an educational institution, Lehigh University is well poised to translate the technological developments that VTA and its partners will undertake into educational resources and opportunities,” said Kishore.

The students, both undergraduate and graduate, have been looking at how the power grid has been changing over the past decade. The VTA, she said, was under the gun to make its electric fleet work. “With our research and the funding, we are looking at how to optimize the grid so the fleet is operating properly.”

Kishore said there is no longer enough diesel. “We need to look at how and when to charge the buses. Diesel prices are pretty steady. The cost of electricity changes every day. So if they can use solar regeneration, they can keep costs down.”

Students are looking at the best ways to store solar energy so the buses can be charged overnight. Solar power, she said, is abundant in California. “We will help them understand how to operate the system effectively.”

While the research is going on for VTA, Kishore said Lehigh Valley also has a sustainability plan to make its transit service carbon neutral. “There is not as much solar generation here,” she said. “We have the mountain and cold weather which changes things.”

The electric buses have multiple sensors that give researchers a lot of data. The students can use the data to see how weather and terrain affect the performance of electric buses. “We hope this becomes a robust platform for other transit systems.”

Lehigh University has been doing research projects for years. Kishore said the number of undergraduates showing up to work on this project shows there is a much higher interest in this. “It speaks to what students are interested in. They are very engaged in sustainability.”

A major part of the research is to look at what happens when there is a power outage or an earthquake “which is prevalent in California”, she said. “How do you charge the buses in these situations.”

The buses, she said, are used by EMS organizations in the face of emergencies. “We need to look at the link between emergency services and VTA to see if their choices make sense for the community.”

Welty said the west coast office was opened to recruit students from California and the surrounding states. “We wanted to increase our student population without lowering our standards,” he said. “We need to provide research projects like this so students from here can have opportunities for internships and build portfolios.”

Drawing from the west coast is important, but the university needs to make sure the students can return home and land jobs, according to Welty.

The mix of students drawn to the project allows them to learn from each other. Kishore said students from engineering, environmental sciences and communications all learn a lot about other disciplines while working together on the project.