Report offers case studies for how Pa. could help areas affected by RGGI

  • Rachel McDevitt

A new report highlights best practices Pennsylvania could use to help coal communities affected by the state joining a regional cap-and-trade program.

It comes from the Ohio River Valley Institute, a think tank that promotes moving away from extractive industries toward a more sustainable Appalachia.

The report outlines what’s been done in four states, two in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and two outside RGGI.

“RGGI funding is certainly not a panacea,” said report author Joseph Cullen. But he said they found the money raised by charging power plants for carbon emissions can play a critical role in helping communities prepare for eventual coal plant closures.

RGGI is a cooperative effort among 11 states that aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. It includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

The report looks at six communities in New York and Massachusetts, where RGGI money has been used to replace lost tax revenue for local governments and school districts, prepare coal plant sites for reuse, and fund economic planning efforts. It also highlights transition plans in Colorado and Washington.

The Wolf Administration is proposing an energy communities trust fund to do similar work. RGGI is expected to raise around $300 million for Pennsylvania in the first year.

Republicans have been fighting to keep Pennsylvania out of RGGI, saying it would cost the state energy jobs. The GOP hasn’t put forward a proposal about how RGGI money would be spent.

The report emphasizes local decision-making for successful outcomes.

“It’s really important that people from those communities be brought in. They’re in the best position to know what’s right for those communities,” said Franz Litz, a consultant who helped launch RGGI in New York.

The case studies included in the report show that final outcomes for affected communities are still uncertain, and that additional state funds and private investment may be needed to get some places on even financial footing.

For example, the coal-fired generator in Dunkirk, New York closed three years before the state created the Electric Generation Facility Cessation Mitigation Program, a program that sends RGGI funds to support local governments facing the closure of a local power plant.

The plant closed in 2012. Its owner, NRG Energy, planned to repower the plant with natural gas, but in 2018 said the station would remain closed. Dunkirk started getting mitigation payments in 2018. The city adopted a comprehensive plan in 2019 that recommended using the former site for recreation.

In Massachusetts, RGGI funds played a role in shaping site remediation and reuse decisions at coal-fired generators.

Soon after Dominion Energy announced in 2012 that its Salem Harbor Power Station would close in 2014, the governor created a task force to ensure redevelopment at the site. A new owner, Footprint Power, started operation of a natural gas power plant on 20 acres of the site in 2018. Development of the remaining 45 acres is ongoing.

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