Rep. Jerry A. Stern talks state level involvement in alternative energy and its effects locally

Editor’s Note: The following will be part of a series of stories involving 80th Legislative District State Representative Jerry A. Stern (R), where he will be discussing issues that face the nation, the Commonwealth, and the local area. Another series will follow addressing similar issues with 81st Legislative District State Representative Mike Fleck (R).
Republican State Representative Jerry A. Stern of the 80th Legislative District will be embarking on his ninth term in the state House of Representatives, and entering his second term as Republican Caucus Secretary in Leadership.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, under Democrat Governor Edward G. Rendell’s administration, put together an Alternative Energy Package that was passed last year, where the state borrowed $500 million to stimulate conservation efforts and alternative energy sources, such as windmills and solar.
Rep. Stern explained that all of those efforts combined are good, but at the same time, he questioned the state’s investment of $500 million in taxpayer dollars. The state’s reasoning to invest such a large amount of money was to gain investment return dollars.
“If the market was such that it was so productive and valuable to begin with, then the private sector would be investing that money and wouldn’t need the state government to come forth and put that money out there,” said Stern.
He continued, “Sometimes it’s nice to help the private sector to develop and to initiate things like this, but when we come to a long term energy policy, we should be looking at the resources we have available in Pennsylvania.”
Half of Pennsylvania’s electricity production comes from coal resources, and Stern noted that another big portion comes from nuclear. He said that if the state is serious about reducing the costs of electricity and producing more, the government needs to look at ways to allow energy sources that already exist in the state, such as natural gas, coal, and nuclear, to be able to expand and produce more.
“That’s the only thing that will help us in reducing energy costs,” stated Stern. “By reducing energy costs, it makes us more competitive – those things all combined is what we should be incorporating in any energy policy we have.”
The Commonwealth and Gov. Rendell have never adopted this combination in a legislative package, even with the clean coal technology and the innovative ways of dealing with nuclear waste. Stern believes that if the state is serious about reducing energy costs, the most viable means to do it must be looked at.
“When you look at the other possibilities as far as solar or windmills and the amount of electricity and energy that’s going to produce, it’s such a minute portion of our overall need,” said Stern. “Every little bit helps, yes, but it’s not the solution to our energy problems.”
Another problem that Stern sees with the state’s alternative energy initiative is in the windmill policy. He said he was amazed that the state and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) didn’t adopt some kind of statewide siting regulations for windmills, calling it “irresponsible”.
Presently, the siting regulations are decided by township and zoning ordinances, and other local municipalities. There are 2,600 municipalities in Pennsylvania, and Stern feels that something this “monumental” should have the state’s involvement like it does with smoking policies and gun ordinances.
“I think that is something we still should be looking at, rather than just putting windmills in wherever you feel like putting them,” said Stern. “Otherwise, you could have a windmill in everybody’s backyard almost.”
Stern explained that sometimes the answers to problems like this can be found in what other nation’s around the world have been successful and unsuccessful with. He said that some of the European countries that “toyed” with windmills at one point, realized after they got into all the experimentation, that they would not supply the generation needs of that nation.
“France, for example, has gone on to nuclear facilities and production,” noted Stern. “They’re using American technology to make all of that happen.”
What Stern is fearful of with rapid windmill or solar construction is the possibility of the state paying for mistakes forty years from now similar to what happened with the coal mines. He thinks there needs to be a more “long range vision” that incorporates coal and nuclear, not just wind and solar.
“Use our natural resources,” stated Stern. “I’m supportive of wind energy, but I would like to see statewide siting regulations to help protect the people and the aesthetics of the Commonwealth.”
As far as Tyrone Borough’s pending decision of Gamesa Energy’s proposed wind farm on Ice Mountain, Stern feels that municipalities like the borough are doing a good job, because it’s difficult for them when there is a financial windfall versus the potential environmental consequences.
“I think it puts them in a tough situation as far as trying to make that vote for something that’s 30 years down the road,” said Stern. “The state government should be more pro-active as far as helping the municipalities by giving them a little more safeguards and regulatory oversight at least in the siting of windmills.”
Stern worries that ten years from now there will be a new governor and administration that could suddenly change the energy policy and move in a complete opposite direction. He also said that in ten years windmills might not be as efficient or energy conducive as once thought.
“So now we have windmills all over Pennsylvania and our mountaintops and watersheds,” envisioned Stern. “What happens at this point?”

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