Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Pittsburgh Region Has the Energy for the Future

Energy is at the top of the news these days. It was a key part of the President’s State of the Union Address, and Governor Rendell announced his Energy Independence Strategy on Thursday.

The cost and availability of energy are critical issues for the Pittsburgh Region. All of us feel the pain from higher electricity, gasoline, and natural gas prices. But we have major industries here, particularly the chemistry and steel industries, for which access to reliable, affordable electricity and natural gas can mean the difference between competitive success and bankruptcy. And that in turn affects thousands of our highest-paying jobs.

What’s the solution? It’s right here in our own backyard, and it can be one of the biggest economic development opportunities for the region in many years, with the potential to create thousands of new jobs and dozens of startup companies.

It’s called coal. Forget your stereotype about what a “coal plant” looks like. New clean coal technologies can not only produce electricity without the high pollution of the past, they can also produce natural gas and even diesel fuel.

Our region can be an international center for coal conversion because it has six key strengths:

The Fuel Itself. Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia produce nearly 20% of the nation’s coal and nearly half of the coal mined east of the Mississippi River. Consol, headquartered here, is the largest producer of high-BTU bituminous coal in the U.S.

Water. Too often taken for granted in discussions of energy production is the fact that coal, as well as nuclear and other types of electricity plants, use tremendous quantities of water. Unlike many other parts of the country, we have an abundant supply.

Technology. Continued research is needed to reduce the costs and environmental impacts of coal mining and energy production. Fortunately, our region is home to three major universities conducting energy-related research (Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and West Virginia University), the headquarters for the country’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, and the largest privately-owned fossil fuel research facility in the world (Consol).

CO2 Disposal Sites. The region's geologic formations, croplands, forest lands, wetlands, and former mines and wells have the potential to store hundreds of years worth of carbon emissions from coal-to-energy plants in order to address global warming concerns.

Sites and Infrastructure. Our rivers, roads, and rail lines are tremendous assets for the energy industry, and our many former industrial sites could be prime locations for new energy facilities.

Access to Customers. In addition to having major customers locally for both power and its byproducts, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are the #1 and #3 electricity exporters in the country, serving the energy-hungry East Coast. If current plans for expanded transmission capacity are implemented, our energy could be the answer to a large portion of the country’s needs.

In addition to coal, we also have strengths in renewable energy sources – biofuels and nuclear, wind, and solar power – with a unique opportunity for a partnership between coal and renewables: “old sun” and “new sun.”

What should we do to capitalize on this opportunity?

•Understand and promote our assets. Entrepreneurs and investors need to know this is one of the energy capitals of the world.

•Partner, not compete, with our neighbors in West Virginia.

•Facilitate collaboration among energy suppliers, customers, researchers, entrepreneurs, financiers, regulators, and others.

•Provide the private and public financing and regulatory policies needed to support everything from small startup companies with breakthrough technologies to multi-billion dollar energy generation facilities.

•Create an adequate supply of trained workers. Much of our energy industry is already suffering from workforce shortages.

If we seize the opportunity, the Pittsburgh region can help lead the nation toward energy independence. For more information on the region’s energy opportunities, visit


Post a Comment

<< Home