Pa.'s promising energy future

| Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

When it comes to energy, 2015 has been a good year for Pennsylvania — and the future outlook is just as promising.

Marcellus shale has led Pennsylvania to become the second-largest natural-gas-producing state in the nation, behind only Texas, driving the Keystone State toward recognition as an energy hub.

Sitting atop the Marcellus shale has offered us numerous benefits. To name a few:

• Lower energy prices, not only for natural gas customers, but also for electric customers. Prolific, efficient production has contributed to natural gas prices that are 38 percent lower than they were a year ago, and electricity prices are declining.

• An overall healthier economy. Not only have we seen jobs in the industry, but Pennsylvania also has made the switch from being a natural gas importer to a natural gas exporter. Pipelines are now being reconfigured to send gas to other regions. This means that not only can Pennsylvanians directly benefit from our proximity to natural gas supply, but our economy gets a boost from these exports.

• Reduced CO2 emissions. We are using 20 times more gas to generate electricity in Pennsylvania compared to 15 years ago. Natural gas burns cleaner and carbon dioxide emissions within the PJM electric grid footprint have steadily declined — down by about 23 percent since 2005.

Thanks to Marcellus shale, for the first time in more than 50 years, the Public Utility Commission in 2013 approved a brand-new natural gas utility. Leatherstocking Gas Co. now allows residents in Susquehanna County and surrounding areas to take advantage of natural gas cost savings and environmental benefits.

With so much gas — and gas byproducts such as propane — available, we need more infrastructure to deliver it. Limits in pipeline capacity are an issue, underlining the importance of projects like the Mariner East pipeline, which helped to deliver much-needed propane to Pennsylvanians during sustained cold and peak demand in the winter of 2014.

Likewise, there are Pennsylvania residents who do not have access to the resource because they are not in close vicinity to pipelines.

Increasing access and affordability across the state is a priority at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and we have pushed utilities to design innovative programs for consumers to manage these costs. The majority of our major natural gas utilities have now implemented aggressive pilot programs aimed at extending natural gas service to unserved or underserved areas in cost-effective ways.

Natural gas has been a game-changer for Pennsylvania. But the fact remains that in order for more residents and businesses to be able to take advantage of this clean-burning resource, we need more pipeline infrastructure. To help advance that goal, the PUC looks forward to furthering the accessibility, affordability and environmental benefits of gas through the construction and oversight of new natural gas infrastructure and the implementation of innovative extension programs.

Pamela A. Witmer is a commissioner with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

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