More than 300 people filled a ballroom at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh Thursday to devise the framework for a regional energy development plan.
Representatives from more than 20 energy-related organizations led the event, trying to pinpoint key issues to address in the energy development plan.
Pittsburgh and the surrounding 32 county region have a long history of being energy innovators, according to Power of 32 Implementation Committee Chairman Greg Babe, but the area lacks vision and strategy.
“We still don’t have our own plan,” he said. “We now have, with unconventional gas and oil right here under our feet, we have an opportunity with this new abundance, a new opportunity, we have a chance to go back and do what we should have done before and that is to finalize a plan.”
The strategy could take several years to develop, but whatever they decide will be constructed around the region’s energy baseline, a one-year snapshot of the area’s energy production, consumption and environmental impact commissioned by the group Sustainable Pittsburgh.
According to the data, coal is the region’s largest natural resource. The area produced 2,080 trillion BTUs of coal in 2011 and exported 790 trillion that same year. A BTU is the amount of energy needed to heat or cool 16 fl. oz. of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
Of the energy produced by coal domestically, much of it was lost in the electricity conversion process. And, of the 3,400 trillion BTUs generated and used in 2011, about 40 percent was lost or unused.
“Both transportation and energy transmission and distribution and generation really begs for a regional look at energy planning,” Barton Kirk, an ecological engineer with the firm Kirk Consulting, said.
He said distributed generation could improve energy losses in the region. The technique converts energy into electricity at the point of consumption as opposed to converting at one central location.
Greg Babe is more concerned with the amount of coal being exported from the region. He said he wants to see more resources extracted and used regionally.
“There are a lot of good things that I think can come out of this so that we ensure that we are generating long-term wealth here from the energy sources that we have, but at the same time, we’re doing it in an environmentally responsible way so that we aren’t hurting our local environment,” he said.
Donna Riggle, a member of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania said safety needs to come ahead of economics when crafting an energy plan and strategy.
“I’m looking for the safe, especially regarding public health, the safe production and transmission of our energy and our energy sources,” she said. “We all live downstream, we all eat food, we all drink water, we all breathe air, (and) so that’s the safety issue.”