Biofuels bills are fueling debate

Posted: June 21, 2007

HARRISBURG - In 2004, Gov. Rendell warned delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Boston of the growing energy crisis and said it was time for America to step up and lead the world in the production of renewable energy.

Yesterday, Rendell made a similar pitch to a local audience.

Standing in the Capitol Rotunda, he challenged business leaders, consumers and lawmakers to "step boldly into the future" and turn Pennsylvania into the leading producer of alternative energy in the country.

Amid the seasonal budget frenzy, Rendell tried to drum up support for his Energy Independence Strategy, a plan that he said would put the state in the forefront of the clean energy movement.

The centerpiece of the multi-pronged proposal contained in four bills, now under consideration in the General Assembly, is an $850 million fund raised through a bond issue to support conservation and the development of clean energy.

Under the plan, interest on the fund's bond would be covered by a surcharge on electric bills paid by consumers and businesses.

Rendell contends that his proposal would reduce the state's energy costs by $10 billion in 10 years, generate 13,000 jobs, help encourage consumer conservation, and hold down rates when utility rate caps are lifted in 2010.

The initiative also includes a mandate to increase the percentage of renewable products, known as biofuels - such as soy and ethanol - used in fuel sold in the state.

Rendell suggested that he was prepared to hold up the budget until his energy package was approved.

"I will not allow us to leave here with just a budget," Rendell told a group of supporters, including union leaders and Democratic lawmakers.

When asked later to clarify those remarks, Rendell said the energy plan was among the priorities - along with health care and transportation - that he expected action on before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Similar energy packages have been under consideration in the House and Senate.

There have been objections over the cost of implementing the measures.

The House last night, after a heated two-hour debate, approved a bill, 128-70, that would grant the Pennsylvania Economic Development Authority the ability to sell bonds to provide grants and loans for alternative energy and conservation initiatives.

The House also approved the biofuels bill, 138-60.

"This is a clear message to the Senate that Democrats and Republicans supported these bills and they ought to pass these bills in a timely fashion," said John Hanger, president of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy group.

But some Senate Republican leaders say that the issues are complicated and that they want to hold off voting on the proposals until the fall.

Opposition has also built around concern over the debt burden and the cost to consumers and businesses.

Driving the governor's plan is the expiration of electricity rate caps in Pennsylvania, which Rendell and environmental groups argue is going to cause significant rate hikes, a position disputed by the energy utilities.


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Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

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