Over the last few weeks, I’ve been emailing with Courtney Hayden, State College Borough Communications & Grants Coordinator, about the feasibility and usefulness of a new Energy Commission to manage public funding for home energy conservation projects. During the early drafting process, I met with Jason Grottini and Brian Henderson at Envinity and they recommended focusing efforts on creating a revolving loan fund.
After talking about the revolving loan fund idea with Courtney and checking in with Matt Dahlhausen (PSU MS Candidate in Architectural Engineering, very active in community discussions about greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy), I’ve decided not to pursue the ordinance angle.
Among other things, Courtney said that there are a half-dozen or so sustainability projects in the works in the Borough, loosely coordinated by Borough Manager Tom Fountaine’s Sustainability Committee, an internal committee comprised of Borough staff, whose meetings are generally private. Tom is reportedly reluctant to add another layer of bureaucracy for already over-stretched staff, by creating an Energy Commission. And I’m a big fan of stripping away red tape whenever possible.
So I’m switching back to a “watchful waiting” posture, and gathering and publishing more background info in the meantime.
Courtney provided the following information (her personal views, not official Borough positions):
When I first began working for the Borough as an AmeriCorps member, it was my job to look through our goals through Resolution 944, capture some baseline data, and develop some proposals to cut emissions. At that time I was thinking of a number of things similar to what you have proposed.
Working with Brent Yarnal, the Geography Department at Penn State conducted a Greenhouse Gas Inventory in 2006, using 2004 data for the Borough.
- 2006 Centre Region Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, by Yarnal, etc.
- 2007 State College Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Action Plan, by Yarnal, etc.
- 2010 State College Mitigation Options – Summary
- 2010 State College Mitigation Options – Detailed
- 2010 Centre Region Greenhouse Gas Inventory Presentation
They looked at emissions from the electricity sector by obtaining data from West Penn Power (then Allegheny Power). West Penn Power would only supply 18 months of data for the research, from March 2004 to August 2005, so Yarnal’s team did calculations to normalize it to one year (2004). I believe at this time West Penn Power will still only give data for the previous year, which means we have no way of tracking electricity usage from 2004 to 2011.
Another problem is West Penn Power will only report data based on zip code boundaries and rate codes, which are
- (1) residential
- (2) small commercial
- (3) large commercial and small industrial
- (4) large industrial and
- (5) street and area lighting
In the inventory, Yarnal’s team used per capita scaling to fit the data for the Borough and eliminated large industrial because the Borough does not have significant large industrial areas.
Additionally, with the nature of the grid (we are serviced by Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland (PJM) Interconnectpower pool,) it’s virtually impossible to verify where the electricity was generated and by which fuel, though West Penn Power claims at least 95% of its plants in Pennsylvania are coal-generated.
The 2006 inventory calculated carbon dioxide emissions from an assumption of 100% coal generation. From their calculations on the amount of emissions from electricity, I converted this to the MWH consumed, adjusting for population changes in the Borough from 2000 to 2004 to calculated a “baseline” for the year 2000 set in Resolution 944.
This estimation doesn’t include on-site fuels such as natural gas for home heating, which is also a significant portion of the Borough’s GHG emissions in the inventory. But baseline data for the year 2004 is in the inventory as well.
What About Now?
While I was an AmeriCorps member I created a handout that we never released; I planned to implement this brochure after we had received status as a Green Power Partner. For the last two years, the Borough has purchased Renewable Energy Certificates for 100% of the Borough’s municipal electricity consumption and are a Green Power Partner through the US Environmental Protection Agency program. As a Green Power Partner we have the opportunity to become a Green Power Community.
I’d like to work with our new AmeriCorps member this year to begin implementing some of the goals we’ve developed, but I don’t think adding additional bureaucracy would help. Part of why we haven’t made much progress is because our staff is already overwhelmed by the number of advisory boards we meet with. What we need are boots on the ground.
Here are a few tools that I want to use and some of my own thoughts (not necessarily the stance of the Borough):
- EPA is willing to assist us if we want to pursue the Green Power Community status. To do this we would need for green power to be purchased by residents at a rate of three 100KwH Renewable Energy Certificates per resident per month and 26 100 KwH RECs per commercial business permonth or the equivalent in actual off-the grid renewables.
- Penn State’s library and Schlow Library both have watt-meters (Kill a Watt EZ) that people can check out to see exactly how much energy they are using with their electronics.
- We can have people enter their own energy use data into Green Quest. They can then submit their data to the Borough and we can reward those who make the biggest changes overall. We could even have a neighborhood by neighborhood challenge.
- The State of Pennsylvania offers a 3% financing program lending up to $15,000 for home energy improvements, called Keystone Help. The Borough should better educate residents about the Keystone HELP loan program and see what results we get from the increased education.
- If we can actually get better data from First Energy, I would like to explore doing a community-wide energy audit, but from everyone I’ve talked with (we’re working with SEDA-COG on a utility bill analysis) First Energy is not forthcoming with clear, useable data. Census block, for example, would be better than zip code blocks.
We need community members to work directly with our Sustainability Committee. We want to do these things and we will if possible.
We are also working with Penn State through the Sustainability Institute in a new program called the Sustainable Communities Initiative. For that program to work well, we need to involve Penn State faculty members interested in exploring community sustainability with their students, to go along with some public issue forums on the topic of energy to be held in Spring 2014.
Keep in mind, this is a slow process. I have been slowly chugging along. When I started in 2010, I never thought the Borough government would be at 100% of our electricity usage offset through RECs. I’ve set the stage by getting us in the EPA program; we can use that to leverage public outreach. But our Sustainability Committee cares about this a lot more than Council does. Every time we’ve done a priority list of Borough Council’s goals, sustainability is on the bottom end of list.
My Suggestions at this Point in Time
I think that we should set up a meeting between community members with technical expertise and the Sustainability Committee for sometime after our new AmeriCorps member starts (August 20) and hash it out. We can give our recommendations to Tom and see how we can get that low hanging fruit first and hit the ground running with a successful project, rather than trying something (like a revolving loan fund) that will be extremely hard to pass.
Also, our Sustainability Committee is in the process of revising the Resolution 944 goals and beginning this new endeavor with the Sustainability Institute.
It’s the perfect time to start this kind of discussion within the community as a whole.