Letter to DEP Environmental Program Manager re: Penn State Energy System Planning

Letter to Muhammad Zaman, Environmental Program Manager, PA Department of Environmental Protection, Northcentral Regional Office. (7.2.13 Watt Letter to Zaman)

Sent via email and regular mail

Re: TVOP 14-00003/PSU West Campus Steam Plant Conversion Project

Dear Mr. Zaman:

I have been investigating Penn State University’s energy system plans since information about the proposed 12” 400 psi Columbia Gas natural gas transmission line through the Highlands residential neighborhood in State College emerged in mid-March of this year. I’ve been collecting and publishing public documents related to Penn State’s energy system planning online at State College Energy Sovereignty Task Force over the same period of time, most recently posting documents retrieved from the Williamsport office on June 24.

I work on these issues because I’m persuaded by evidence that fossil fuel extraction will continue to become less economically and technically feasible over the coming decades, and by evidence that communities must quickly cut regional greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change, not simply slow the rate of emissions growth. I think it’s both ecologically and economically dangerous for institutions like Penn State to invest significant capital and employee time in fossil fuel-dependent distribution and combustion infrastructure.

Among the residents who are actively engaged in this issue, the consensus is that Penn State – and the surrounding community which depends on the university’s long-term viability – would be best served by energy system planning that begins with comprehensive conservation measures, followed by carefully targeted renewable installations.

We believe conservation and renewables offer the safest, most reliable, cheapest and cleanest energy supply, and that Penn State’s West Campus Steam Plant expansion is a discretionary project, not a necessary one. While Penn State Office of Physical Plant staff have made general public claims that they have considered alternatives and none are feasible, we do not trust their assertions in the absence of verifiable data and calculations.

And although the University has not yet publicly released the data and calculations they’ve used to make their current energy system plan, the limited data we have accessed supports our conclusion that Penn State is technically capable of reducing the University Park energy load to a level that would eventually enable the complete closure of the West Campus Steam Plant – meeting and then exceeding the standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

What’s lacking is the political leadership from the Board of Trustees to make that transition to load reduction and renewables happen.

Community members are actively seeking ways to work in coordination with you and your colleagues at the DEP to put pressure on the Board of Trustees to scrap the coal, natural gas and diesel oil strategy and move decisively toward conservation and renewables. Your regulatory leverage, combined with the technical complexity of the pipeline and plant conversion process, along with our political leverage as far as Penn State’s fragile public reputation, may be combined to pinch the Board of Trustees until they see conservation and renewables as an attractive solution to their regulatory, technical and public relations headaches.

As a side note, I recently learned that information submitted via email to the Board of Trustees is filtered through university administrators. Since administrators’ interests and trustees’ interests overlap but are not identical, administrators may potentially withhold vital information from the Board, and relay misleading or incomplete information.

However, if the Board of Trustees receives accurate information about the increasingly unreliable, expensive and climate-destabilizing fossil fuel extraction and distribution systems, the trustees would be in a position to direct administrators – especially within the Office of Physical Plant and the new Sustainability Institute – to find the most effective sequence of steps to reduce campus energy use and bring it in line with decreasing energy production capacity caused by the aging of campus fossil fuel infrastructure and the rising cost of fossil fuels, while implementing a plan to replace the declining capacity year-to-year with renewable systems.

Please let me know how I and other community members concerned about fossil fuel dependence and climate change can engage in the planning and permitting process most effectively – along with you and your regulatory colleagues – to steer Penn State University in the direction of conservation and renewables.

Sincerely,

Katherine Watt

Cc:

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