Some of our Pennsylvania bigwigs and oil industry fat cats want to make Philly the next petrochemical energy hub. Sounds great, right? Jobs and industry, right?
There are a few problems, though. Yes we’re awash in Marcellus Shale gas at the moment and most of it is now pumped to Louisiana to be processed. So we want a piece of that pie – or do we?
The only energy hub that now exists in the US is the Henry Hub - which is in the middle of acres and acres of Louisiana bayou and farmland. Not many people nearby. So the spills and toxic air that are the natural result of oil/gas processing don’t usually immediately poison a whole lot of folks.
Our leaders slavering after petro dollars want to build a bunch of new pipelines and plunk this flood of fossil fuel and chemicals down in the midst of the 46.1 million people who live within 200 miles of Philadelphia.
Some call the idea Petro Metro. Can’t go wrong with a cute name, huh?
Right now Philadelphia already has some of the worst air in the nation. Second only to Los Angeles. Just imagine the health costs with rising numbers of people of all ages showing up in hospital emergency rooms because they can’t breath.
And all those promised jobs? There will be some of course, but just like with the Keystone XL, far fewer than boosters promise.
“…if the goal is economic development and job creation, collecting methane and moving it around doesn’t accomplish all that much. True, there are a lot of construction jobs in building a pipeline. But those are temporary gigs, with little lasting economic impact. Big energy facilities, like a refinery or power plant, can cost billions to erect but typically employ well under 1,000 workers.” – Philadelphia Magazine, Philadelphia + a Pipeline (or Two) = America’s Next Energy Hub, by Patrick Kerkstra
Our eager pols should know by now that there are far more and better cleaner jobs in green energy. For a fraction of the cost, there are a ton of jobs right now just for the asking, if our leaders wanted to spend money on energy. One is retrofitting the huge number of buildings in town that leak heat/cooling like gangbusters which would provide a heck of a lot of people with work. Or how about upgrading wiring in all our aging buildings? That would keep the electrical workers happily employed for ages.
And it would save Philadelphians tons of money at the same time it would clean the air.
“…Solar also added more jobs than the oil and gas pipeline construction industry did in 2014, even as solar still only produces about 1 percent of all electricity in the U.S. The jobs census was conducted with support from George Washington University by gathering data from more than 7,600 businesses. Of the jobs added in solar in 2014, 85 percent are truly new jobs, "rather than existing positions that have added solar responsibilities." One in 5 people employed in the industry are women.
Here's a breakdown of average wages: Installers:
$20-$24 an hour
Manufacturers: $18 an hour
Sales: $30-$60 an hour
Designers: $30-$40 an hour
The jobs census reports that solar is spreading to more states. Georgia's installed capacity in 2014 made it one of the top 10 states for solar. "States like Indiana, Virginia and Tennessee will install more solar capacity this year than in all previous years combined." – ETCNBC.com, Growth in solar is white hot, by Jane Wells
The economics in place when the so-called "energy hub" project for Philadelphia was first conceived have changed dramatically in the last couple of years. To go forward with this fossil fuel-focused project in its present form in these changed conditions is crazy.
The barrel price of oil was then about $100. Now it is about half that much and likely to drop further for many reasons including Iran coming back into this market full bore. Shale and oil gas extraction, never really economically viable in the long term, look kind of silly at present fossil fuel prices. Perhaps even more important when it comes to planning ahead, alternative energy technologies such as solar and wind and geothermal are becoming more and more price competitive and more and more productive in terms of job creation.
"…Renewable energy technologies are far further advanced than many may believe: solar photovoltaic (PV) and on-shore wind have a track record of successful deployment, and costs have fallen dramatically in the past few years," Alex Thursby, chief executive of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), said in a report published this month. "In many parts of the world, indeed, they are now competitive with hydrocarbon energy sources…" – CNBC, Is renewable energy ready to disrupt fossil fuels? by Leslie Shaffer
In case our dear leaders have had their fingers in their ears, we also have climate change to deal with. Just to live in a world with a climate that hasn’t been thrown so off kilter we might not be able to survive as species this century, we need to be cleaning up our mess right now and stop using fossil fuels.
There are many good options to use right now today with wind and distributed solar. And they are are rapidly getting better and cheaper now that people are seriously investing. We also don’t have to give up our fun energy using cell phones or other tech. We just need to be smarter about doing it. Just by surfing the web a little, I found:
• “A group of scientists at Stanford University has developed an aluminum battery that can charge a smartphone in a minute and last through far more cycles than conventional ion-lithium or alkaline batteries…The new battery, developed by a team led by Chemistry Professor Hongjie Dai, is safer than many existing commercial batteries…”
• “…Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Chairman Elon Musk, who said in February, he expects to unveil a Tesla battery for homes and businesses with production slated to start in the next six months…Tesla TSLA, +0.52% which produces lithium-ion batteries for its electric cars in conjunction with Japan’s Panasonic Corp., is building a $5 billion battery plant outside Reno, Nevada.” – Marketwatch, New battery can charge a smartphone in a minute, by Ciara Linnane
• Ireland, a country not known to be terribly sunny, is leaping ahead with solar energy projects. And they’re addressing the utilities here constantly cry about problems of irregular power.
“…The plant will use a motor-generated flywheel to harness kinetic energy from the grid at times of over-supply. This will then be released from submerged turbines at times of supply shortfalls…The project in Rhode, County Offaly, is expected to launch commercially in 2017, with an operating capacity of 20MW…” – The Guardian, New energy storage plant could ‘revolutionize' renewable sector, by Arthur Neslen
Later in the article “…By using back-up flow batteries which store electricity in tanks in a liquid form, “you can scale up your power and storage capacities separately so that, in principle, the storage can be unlimited…”
• “…Costs around the world have fallen to such an extent that solar can compete with other forms of power generation like natural gas or coal and win…” – New Your Times, Outlook for Solar Gets a Bit Brighter, by Stanley Reed
• “…In many parts of the world, indeed, they are now competitive with hydrocarbon energy sources." and “…The cost of solar PV is down more than 80 percent since 2008 and modern wind turbines produce around 15 times more electricity than in the 1990s…” – CNBC, Is renewable energy ready to disrupt fossil fuels? by Leslie Shaffer. And it’s projected to go down another 50 percent within five years.
• “…Technologies such as solar are much more cost competitive now so you might not see as much pressure from low oil prices,” said Lit Ping Low, assistant director for sustainability and climate change at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “Investment in clean energy will at least hold its own, if not continue to rise this year…”– Bloomberg Business, Clean Energy Investment Jumps 16%, Shaking Off Oil’s Drop, by Louise Downing
We used to be the leaders, but we Americans gave away the market for solar panels to the Chinese by staying with last century technology and doubling down on oil. That same Bloomberg article just quoted goes on to say “…China was the biggest single contributor among the major markets for renewable energy, increasing its investment to $89.5 billion, the BNEF report showed. The nation has become the top market for solar power and one of the largest for wind after ladling out support for the industries to diversify its energy supplies. …”
Why make our air and water more toxic and spend millions of taxpayer dollars on an old dying dirty industry and loose ground economically to other more with it countries?
Let’s contact our council people, mayoral candidates and state legislators to ask them about the energy hub. You have the right to ask and they do owe us taxpayers an answer.
An energy hub for Philadelphia? Sure. Build it for the energy resources of the future not the past.
If you want to learn more, you really can’t go wrong by starting with these articles: