Corbett Administration Shifting Focus of Clean Energy Grants

  • Scott Detrow

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Last week, the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority handed out the first round of clean energy grants, since Republican Tom Corbett took office.
PEDA was formed in the mid-1980s, but stopped doling out grant money in 1995. Governor Rendell brought the program back to life in 2004, and funded it with the Growing Greener II bond issue, which provided $10 million in grant money every year. From 2005 until the end of Rendell’s tenure, PEDA distributed nearly $70 million to 140 clean energy projects. The agency falls under the Department of Environmental Protection’s domain.
Two of the 13 projects PEDA funded this year are natural gas-related. Two of 13 may not sound like a lot, but it already doubles the number of natural gas initiatives PEDA gave money to during Rendell’s tenure.
The Authority is giving $500,000 to Pittsburgh, to purchase two natural gas-fueled garbage trucks. (The city is providing matching funding, increasing the order to four vehicles.) “By using the equivalent of 630,000 cubic feet of natural gas, or 2.5 million cubic feet total, the project will save the city $38,400 per year,” the Department of Environmental Protection press release boasts. “In addition, it will reduce the annual air emissions of CO2, particulate matter, NOx, VOC and CO by more than 200,000 pounds annually.” PEDA is also giving $250,000 to a Bedford County health center, to help purchase a natural gas-powered heating system.
Other grants provide funding for the instillation of energy-efficient lighting at Misericordia University and Ursinus College, a hydro turbine project in Greene County, and a composting effort in Lawrence County.
Of the 140 grants PEDA distributed during the Rendell Administration, just one went to a natural gas project: $1 million in 2009, for a natural gas-powered generator at a Williamsport hospital. More solar projects won grant money than any other energy type. Biomass power came in second (17 grants awarded, compared to 34 for solar projects.) Fuel cell, energy efficiency initiatives and waste coal conversion efforts rounded out the rest of the Rendell Administration’s top five grant fields.
StateImpact’s information comes from PEDA’s annual reports, which are available online.
Do the Corbett Administration’s two natural gas grants, coupled with a recent decision to change the mission of a DEP department focused on alternative energy, signal a shift away from renewable energy sources? DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said they’re simply a reflection of Pennsylvania’s changing energy landscape. “Over the last couple of years, natural gas has come to the forefront [of Pennsylvania’s energy economy],” he said, adding gas “certainly suits all the goals of PEDA in assisting the development and implementation of clean energy projects.”
Sunday said PEDA did not accept open bids for the most recent round of grants, due to time constraints. Instead, the administration evaluated proposals submitted during the final months of the Rendell Administration, which had not been awarded grants, due to funding constraints.

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