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Legislators: Theory good, but check the down side  

When it comes to alternative energy, many lawmakers think it’s a pretty good idea, at least in theory.

“I think we should be using as many alternative energy sources as possible,” state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said. “The question is, where do you get the money?”

State Sen. Roger A. Madigan, R-Towanda, has a constituency that includes many farmers who see the benefits of tapping ethanol from corn for fuel.

“I think a lot of them are looking at that as an alternative. But dairy farmers see it as raising their prices for feed. If we put all farmland in Pennsylvania for corn for ethanol use, it would last 45 days. But it’s something I think we need to continue looking at.”

“Where does all the corn come from?” Everett asked.

It seems to be the essence of the energy debate these days – whether it’s being discussed on the state or federal level.

U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-Pleasantville, likes the idea of green energy resources such as wind and solar, but he’s also quick to note they represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s total energy resources.

“In the meantime, we see 2 to 3 percent increases each year in our energy dependency, and even if we double our green resources, we remain 1 or 2 percent behind each year.”

Peterson recently lambasted his fellow House members for voting against drilling for natural gas and oil on the outer continental shelf. He claims that the drilling ban should be lifted as a means of preventing the U.S. from being as dependent on foreign resources.

He also claims that drilling on the outer continental shelf is an environmentally sound policy.

“We are the only country in the world with a prohibition,” he said.

In the meantime, Peterson said energy prices will only continue to rise for much needed fuel and heating purposes.

His colleague in the House, U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, D-Dimock, does not share those views.

“Off-shore drilling is just a temporary stop gap and the return on investment doesn’t justify doing it,” he said.

Carney called for a continued push on alternative energy sources, including wind power and the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency.)

The latter involves getting automakers to improve gas mileage standards for cars. Such initiatives not only allow the nation to become more technologically advanced, but help create jobs, he said.

Kevin Curtis, senior advocate of the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency, said the majority of the U.S. House is in favor of improving fuel standards, which have remained static for the past 20 years.

“Some of my neighbors are looking into buying their own personal windmills for their homes,” Carney said. “They like selling electricity back to the grid.”

He said the state can take the lead of other states that have located windmills off shore where winds are more prevalent.

Alternative energy sources will only be part of the future if everyone is on the same page, he said.

“We decided we would put a man on the moon and, by God, we did. If we decide to become energy dependent, we can.”

Madigan said he is hopeful that alternative energy is part of the state’s future.

“Well, I am because I think there is a lot of interest in them. And as the cost of oil goes up, the more people look to see what alternatives are out there for putting in their cars or heating their homes,” he said. “It all boils down to economics.”

Still, he’s not sure that oil will soon be forgotten as an energy source. And with alternative energy continuing to gain momentum, those sources can be used increasingly as leverage in bringing down oil prices.

Everett said he favors using incentives to allow private enterprises to get into the business of alternative energy.

“The current administration likes to borrow large sums of money for grants. I’d like to let anyone get into the business through tax credits.”

Still, Everett favors plans that take common-sense approaches. For example, a wind farm should not go just anywhere.

“I don’t think anyone ever thought about setting aside places for wind power. In the past, we were not a prime target for wind energy because the wind just doesn’t blow here a lot. Whenever you have development in places where it’s not occurred before, you are going to get the ‘not in my back yard.’”

He suggested Lycoming County take another look at where wind farms and other alternative energy initiatives are viable.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s proposal to designate portions of the state for power transmission lines has drawn criticism from some politicians, including Carney and Sen. Robert Casey.

Casey, in a letter to Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, noted that the government agency has disregarded opposition from the state. He also noted that the designated area for the Mid-Atlantic Area National Interest Electric Transmissions Corridor threatens “the historic, scenic, and environmental integrity of a significant portion of Pennsylvania.”

“My concern is that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has to have a voice in the route of these power lines,” Carney added. “Power lines can disrupt the beauty of the area. The state needs to have a place at the table. Local communities need more input.”

Peterson had a different take.

“I saw the baseline of organizations opposed to this and it was orchestrated by green organizations,” he said. “We have to have power lines. I’ve shot deer under them. It’s the only way to connect the grid if you want electricity.”

By Mike Reuther

Williamsport Sun-Gazette

29 July 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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