Fact-Checking the HNMCP Report

Work in progress… early draft…

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Anonymity and confidentiality preclude accountability and transparency by rendering it impossible to assess credibility of speakers and accuracy of their claims. All public statements on energy planning – especially statements presented as fact – must be sourced to the individual making the statement and his or her position within or without the Penn State hierarchy.

For example, on page 10, the authors provide a list of interviewee categories, including Penn State faculty “with expertise in engagement,” “with expertise in energy,” and so forth. Those individuals are not identified, so there’s no way to assess the credibility of their claim to “expertise” and thus no way to assess the credibility of their observations.

Again on page 11, the authors describe focus groups with “experts in the fields of engagement, community outreach, communication, collaborative decision-making, negotiation and dispute resolution.”

Without a list of names, job titles, access to curricula vitae, etc. there’s no way for the public to assess the credibility of these so-called experts.

I contend, to the extent Penn State employs experts in these fields, their presence on campus is irrelevant to the energy planning debate, since none of them put their reputations on the line during the public controversy around the pipeline and Penn State’s long-term energy planning.

That reluctance to engage, by purported experts in engagement and energy, speaks loudly about the climate for energy discussion on campus. I had interactions with both Richard Alley and Michael Mann in which they implicitly and explicitly cited the chilling political climate on campus as reasons why they are willing to write generally about climate and energy issues in local and national publications, but not willing to address Penn State’s specific energy and climate actions.

Although there are footnotes in the HNMCP to source some claims, most are sourced to press releases put out by Office of Physical Plant staff without supporting documentation.

Trust-building will start when Penn State leaders back their public assertions with supporting evidence.

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Unsourced, unsupported claims asserted in the HNMCP Report:

  1. “OPP has not publicized its own energy-related goals or the metrics according to which it makes decisions about energy planning” (p. 21); implies “Penn State has a written energy plan for 2015 through 2030.”

Counterclaim – Penn State does not have a written energy strategy for 2015 through 2030.

  1. “OPP has made changes to the university operations to be more sustainable” (p. 3)

Counterclaim – OPP has not made changes to the university operations to be more sustainable, because “energy use intensity” per square foot is not a measure of sustainability. Only absolute cuts in energy consumption qualify as steps toward sustainability.

  1. “Penn State has decided to set energy-related goals for the entire university.” (p. 3)

Counterclaim – A few individuals in the Sustainability Institute would like the Provost to set energy-related goals for the entire university. However, the Provost is not interested in establishing measurable university-wide energy-related goals.

  1. “OPP has limited resources and its staff is already incredibly busy,” (p. 4) Long-term engagement will stretch thin Penn State’s human and financial capital: “we are very busy and we have a lot on our plates; we are on a treadmill.” (p. 24)

Counterclaim – OPP has extensive but misallocated resources – see, for example, $60 million spent on the recent installation of the Columbia Gas pipeline – and unexplored access to a large, talented pool of potential faculty, student and community volunteers via a Linux-like open-source energy system design protocol. In other words, PSU resources will be stretched only to the extent PSU wants to control the process and the outcome: controlling people and public perceptions is a discretionary expenditure of time and energy, not a response to public demand. Releasing info publicly is not time-consuming.

  1. “The faculty reward structure may disincentivize faculty participation” (p. 4)

Counterclaim – Some faculty members are self-motivated to participate without external incentives; many are not.

  1. “[A more-inclusive, public energy planning process] will be time- and resource-intensive: much more so than simply releasing energy-related goals from a university department would be.” (p. 5)

Counterclaim – To the extent that exclusion and illegitimacy delay and increased the cost of projects, and often lead to unsound decisions, inclusion is more efficient and effective.

  1. “[E]nergy-related goals are not detailed operational plans for Penn State’s energy use…” (p. 8)

Counterclaim – Energy-related goals must be accompanied by detailed operational plans for Penn State’s energy use to be actionable and measurable.

  1. “HNMCP began by reviewing already existing information on Penn State, SI, and energy and sustainability issues relevant to Penn State. These sources…included…strategic planning documents…” (p. 9)

Counterclaim – HNMCP researchers were not granted access to any energy-related Penn State strategic planning documents

  1. “To comply with the 2013 Federal EPA Industrial Boiler MACT law, Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant determined that Penn State’s on campus steam plant…would switch from coal to natural gas.” (p. 18)

Counterclaim – Penn State OPP decided to switch from coal to natural gas to develop a profit-generating Combined Heat & Power (CHP) plant with saleable supply capacity in excess of University demand.

  1. “Penn State [relies] on funding from the natural gas industry for research on related issues…” (p. 18)

Counterclaim – Penn State does not receive significant funding from the natural gas industry, because the natural gas industry has been operating at a financial loss for several years, capitalized by new cash infusions from investors, not from sales of natural gas.

  1. Columbia Gas and Penn State agreed to move the pipeline route through the Penn State campus, adding nearly $9.6 million to the cost of the pipeline construction. Approximately $2.1 million of that is due to delays arising from the changed route.

Counterclaim – No detailed project budgets have been publicly released, so there’s no way to verify or attribute original or increased costs.

  1. “Local residents who rallied around the pipeline issue remain organized and interested in engaging with Penn State, although involvement has declined since the issue was resolved.” P 19)

Counterclaim – The energy planning issue was not resolved; it was temporarily defused.

  1. “Keeping the campus functioning requires substantial resource consumption for necessities like heat and electricity in Penn State buildings; it is OPP’s responsibility to ensure that those necessities are provided at a cost that aligns with the university’s goal of affordability and accessibility for students.” (p. 21)

Counterclaim – OPP’s responsibility is in transition, from providing cheap, reliable, unlimited energy to Penn State users, to providing expensive, rationed, limited energy to Penn State users.

  1. “In October 2014, OPP signed on to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Business [sic] Challenge, pledging to cut 20% of energy use over the next 10 years.” (p. 21)

Counterclaim – In October 2014, OPP signed on to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, pledging to cut “energy use intensity” by 20% over the next 10 years. Energy use intensity is energy use per square foot, not absolute energy use.

  1. OPP has also set an internal goal of reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions 35% below 2005 levels by 2020. (p. 21 footnote)

Counterclaim – OPP has not publicly communicated a plan for GHG reduction, nor the GHG factors used to project emissions from different potential fuel and energy sources.

  1. “The most efficient processes (e.g. a single decision maker consults one or two advisors) are incredibly non-inclusive; while the most inclusive processes (ones that share actual decision-making power with all interested parties) can be impractically inefficient.”
(p. 23)

Counterclaim – Efficiency, redundancy and competition are all vital to sound decision-making. Groupthink and confirmation bias profoundly damage decisions made by closed groups, by limiting their access and exposure to views challenging orthodoxy.

  1. Some stakeholders suggested that any engagement process should be of relatively short duration (“[T]he process can’t go on forever.”). (p. 24).

Counterclaim – Whether any one participant is engaged at any one time, the energy planning process is, by physical necessity, a long-term, ongoing process.

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