PO GUEST ESSAY: Natural gas proposal: Follow or get out of the way

2011-6-1

There is an old adage that says, "lead, follow or get out of the way." In the areas of energy policy and environmental quality, the Borough of Chambersburg will continue to be a leader among the municipalities of Pennsylvania.

With the municipal partnership forged with our neighbors, Greene, Guilford and Hamilton townships, Chambersburg has demonstrated its commitment to a policy of sound environmental stewardship now and in the future.

This spirit of cooperation has resulted in a design strategy that takes into consideration the federal and state environmental mandates to reduce nutrient discharges into the Chesapeake Bay while recognizing the economic realities that will be absorbed by all of the ratepayers of our community. Our goal is to meet the environmental mandates while controlling the capital and operating expenses through the introduction of cutting edge technology and best practice management procedures for plant operations.

While environmental concerns are the driving force behind the upgrade and expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, energy efficiency has not been overlooked. Energy costs constitute one of the largest, controllable operating costs for a sewage treatment plant.

Over the long term, we can realize considerable savings for our ratepayers by investing in energy efficiency during the design of the plant.

Renewable, "green" energy initiatives have long been a focus of the Borough of Chambersburg. Borough Council has
not been able to move as fast as we would like for a number of reasons, particularly economics and regulatory roadblocks. We are exploring a number of options to bring green power into our electric portfolio.
Over the past few years, Chambersburg has actively pursued the development of green resources such as waste-to-energy generation, landfill gas and solar power. Unfortunately, the economic benefits of renewable energy, based on tax credits, prevent the borough from proceeding independently on renewable projects. We are involved in discussions with a number of private developers who could improve our ability to add green energy to our electric portfolio. I look forward to the day when a substantial portion of our electric requirement is met by landfill gas and the construction of a solar field on borough owned property.

Borough Council recently took action authorizing our staff to do preliminary planning for a Natural Gas Vehicle filling station. Such a facility would take advantage of our existing natural gas utility and make compressed natural gas available to a new generation of natural gas powered commercial vehicles. Chambersburg, with the lowest priced natural gas in Pennsylvania, is well positioned to work with our neighboring municipalities and school districts to power their vehicle fleets of the future.

At this time, natural gas could power high usage vehicles for about half the cost of gasoline or diesel. The problem is that natural gas vehicles are not generally available. Many transit systems are switching to natural gas powered vehicles. In the future, school districts could make the conversion for their bus fleets. Sometime, down the road, I envision every truck leaving the two inter-modal facilities in Franklin County being powered by compressed natural gas. Imagine the financial and environmental benefits of such a change.

The potential benefits are a long way off, but achievable if the public demonstrates an appetite for beneficial change. The federal government would have to adopt new standards, particularly for commercial vehicles. The proponents of the status quo would meet such changes with fierce opposition. I propose that a 2025 timeline would give industry adequate time to make the conversion to natural gas as well as providing lead-time to build the gas supply infrastructure.

The economic benefits to the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are undeniable. Since natural gas is a domestic product, it would reduce our dependency on energy imports. In Pennsylvania, the impact would be even more dramatic due to the accelerating development of the Marcellus Shale Gas Fields and the potential of other shale deposits.

A reasonable severance or impact fee on gas production could reinforce Commonwealth finances while also providing economic development funding for new industries born out of natural gas development. Imagine the impact if natural gas truck engines were manufactured in Pennsylvania.

Borough Council is looking at all the options. Progress in not always visible and is subject to unanticipated detours.

Unlike the federal and state governments, Chambersburg does have a comprehensive energy policy to take us into the future. Chambersburg is in the lead. Please follow us, or stay out of our way.

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