Better than incremental: repatriate $ to invest in us all

Remarks by PA IPL supporters are published on this blog alongside PA IPL’s official remarks. When you’re inspired, submit a written comment of your own.  Jon Eich is a former County Commissioner and committed public servant.  When asked about his faith, he responds “right now I consider my faith limited to Matthew 25:40.” JonEich

I have travelled here to today to speak in support of Clean Power Plan.  As a community planner, I have devoted many years to helping communities improve their quality of life.  Quality of life is multi-faceted, and includes promoting economic development, protecting environmental resources, developing infrastructure, providing for public services, and assuring public safety.

One of the charges given in Pennsylvania’s enabling legislation for planning is to minimize such problems as may presently exist or which may be foreseen (Source: Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Section 105).  Scientific research has made a compelling case that human activity that adds carbon to the atmosphere is contributing to climate change.  But beyond science, common sense tells us that if humans release the carbon which has been stored in fossil fuels for hundreds of millions of years in the very short timeframe of a couple hundred years, there is going to be an impact.

The impact of carbon on the atmosphere, on ecosystems, and hence, on people, is a problem that currently exists.  Greater impacts can be foreseen unless action is taken.  Therefore, planners and community leaders have an obligation to take action.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a reasonable response to the identified problem.  The primary focus of the Plan is on the largest contributors to the problem.  The targets and methods described in the Plan to address the problem are reasonable, achievable, and offer a variety of options for states to utilize in achieving their portion of a national goal.

Many existing power plants are Edsels — old, unpopular, and operating at or beyond their useful life.  Just like other infrastructure — such as roads, bridges, and the systems that provide communications, bring drinking water to our taps, and remove sewerage — our power plants must be upgraded or replaced.

This renewal of worn out facilities provides the opportunity for our nation to once-again create a cutting edge power system, one that meets the low-carbon goals described in EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  The building blocks described in the Plan are a good start.  They encourage the development of renewable energy sources while providing for use of other fuels.  That assures an orderly transition and encourages economic development in 21st century industries.

But consideration should be given to adding a building block.  Here is why: two thirds of the energy generated by a centralized power station is consumed moving the power from the where it is generated to the user (Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Estimated US Energy Use in 2011)

The US can reduce the amount of carbon it puts into the atmosphere by supplementing centrally produced power with energy produced by a distributed power system – solar, wind, and geothermal systems that serve individual homes and businesses.  While this will not replace the base load produced by power plants, it may mitigate the need to build additional capacity to satisfy peak loads.  A distributed power system has the added benefit of being resilient – homes that would otherwise lose power when the grid is affected by an extreme weather event may be able to provide shelter-in-place to its occupants.

Finally, I have to wonder if it is in our best interests to approach this problem incrementally.  This plan has set targets based on the current level of investment.  Each year, some more will be accomplished because some additional dollars will be available.  Is that the best approach to a problem this serious?

Can we find the political will to do more – something on the scale of the Interstate Highway System or going to the moon?  I know, the retort is, how would we pay for such an investment.  I’d like to see the Administration develop a legislative proposal that: creates the opportunity for the $1.5 – $2 trillion in corporate profits held overseas to be repatriated, specifically for the purpose of being invested in targeted low-carbon energy system improvements (perhaps through a new series of Build America Bonds).  Of course, the proposal would have to address the flaws of the 2004 Tax Holiday and  eliminate the expectation of a third tax holiday.

The repatriated profits should be used to finance a host of energy system upgrades — everything from insulating homes; to creating a distributed power system; to utility scale wind and solar projects; to carbon sequestration pollution controls at coal and other fossil fuel fired plants.

I realize that repatriating overseas profits would involve some level of subsidy to the firms that participate in the program.  To me, maximizing the current investment in a modern low-carbon energy system for the nation is a worthwhile use of the public subsidy that would be part of repatriating corporate profits held overseas.

Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony today.

The EPA hearings on the (finally) proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants took place the last week in July in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Denver.  PA IPL members offered testimony both in Pittsburgh and Washington.  Testimony posted here is shared by permission of the authors.  Remarks by PA IPL supporters are published on this blog alongside PA IPL’s official remarks. When you’re inspired, submit a written comment of your own.