McDonnell; A Green Mole Rather Than A Patsy? Investigate!
Jim Willis on NGL Pipelines
Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
[Editor’s Note: Patrick McDonnell may not have been the patsy for Tom Wolf that we thought he was. He may, rather, have been a green true believer mole who stole our rights.]
We renew our call for a full investigation into Patrick McDonnell and his tenure as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP). McDonnell led the DEP from May 2016 until he left the department in July 2022. He oversaw the regulation of the shale energy industry in the state, among other duties. What is obvious now is that the entire time he helmed the DEP, McDonnell was a radical anti-fossil fueler. After leaving the DEP, he became the head of the ultra-radical anti-fossil fuel group PennFuture (see Former PA DEP Sec. Pat McDonnell New CEO of Anti-Shale Group). McDonnell’s new role raises all sorts of questions about whether he was compromised and used (abused) his position to restrict shale drilling in the state.
The reason we renew our call for a full investigation is an op-ed by McDonnell published in the Harrisburg swamp rag, The Patriot-News. In the guest editorial (below), McDonnell blames natural gas-fired power plants for the close call we had when extreme weather hit last Christmas when the grid almost went down–even though it was a gas-fired power plant that kept the lights on in the Allentown region (see Bethlehem Marcellus-Fired Power Plant Kept PA Lights on During Xmas).
In his column, McDonnell attacks the “fracked gas” industry and calls for less Marcellus production, fewer pipelines, and fewer gas-fired power plants. You may recall McDonnell was more than happy to carry Tom Wolf’s water of attempting to force PA into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon tax scheme, which is aimed at taxing gas-fired power plants out of existence (see Wolf DEP Sec. McDonnell Tries to End-Run Legislature on Carbon Tax).
Now that McDonnell is eight months removed from his former job, he is opening, brazenly, attacking the industry he regulated less than a year ago. Does this [and especially the hard-core crude fractivist language] not stink to high heaven?
By Patrick McDonnell
On Feb. 27, a Pennsylvania State Senate committee will hold a session reviewing what happened during Winter Storm Elliot. The session shouldn’t focus on the extreme freezing temperatures of December 2022. Lawmakers should focus their attention on how the electric grid—and particularly the state’s fracked gas power plants—failed to deliver during a time when they were needed most.
The Christmas holiday winter storm was the latest showcase into how unreliable our grid has become. PJM Interconnection LLC—the regional grid operator for Pennsylvania—issued a Cold Weather Alert to notify power generators that their electricity would be needed during the upcoming holiday weekend’s surge in demand. PJM pays power generators billions of dollars every year to reserve their availability.
To PJM’s credit, the grid operator recognized the challenges extreme cold would bring. It went into the holiday weekend with much higher reserves than would normally be necessary.
Unfortunately, the record high reserves and the alert to Pennsylvania’s power plants weren’t enough. Many of the power plants PJM was counting on ended up not running. These “forced outages” aren’t necessarily surprising—under normal weather conditions, plants fail to run about 5 percent of the times they are called. Power plants run large, complicated machines and, during extreme weather, the forced outage rate can be as much as 10 percent.
During Winter Storm Elliot, the grid suffered forced outages more than twice the normal rate. More than 20 percent of the grid’s entire capacity went offline. Worse yet, in 92 percent of cases, PJM received less than an hour notice — or no notice at all. Pennsylvania was close to blackouts if not for PJM making emergency decisions, including importing electricity from neighboring power grids. Most disconcerting, homeowners were asked to voluntarily reduce their energy usage over Christmas to ensure their lights could stay on.
As a result of this crisis, energy prices soared to record highs. During the storm, wholesale electricity prices shot up to a staggering $4,300 per MWh, compared to less than $50 per MWh under normal conditions. For consumers paying market rates for electricity plans, the cost may be severe. But even consumers on fixed-rate plans—which most residential customers are—may end up feeling the effects.
PJM is expected to issue a detailed report in mid-April. Preliminary data shows the main culprit was the unreliability of fracked gas plants. Pennsylvania’s gas plants had a forced outage rate of 37 percent and were responsible for 70 percent of all outages. Plant operators didn’t have the supply of gas they needed and waited far too long to tell anyone they couldn’t run. Many plants held gas contracts that didn’t provide them with a guaranteed supply, while others dealt with supply cuts because local gas utilities receive priority to heat homes.
The fracked gas industry will claim that the solution is more fracking and more pipelines. That makes no sense at all. In addition to the obvious environmental and public health consequences of fracking, the economics just don’t work. We would need to spend billions of dollars to over-build vast amounts of infrastructure to guard against relatively rare shortages, causing an unsustainable glut in the gas market and consumers paying the hefty price.
We can’t keep using the same status quo solutions and put all our eggs in one energy source basket. Over 50 percent of Pennsylvania’s energy mix is derived from fracked gas, a proportion that the industry wants to grow. Diversifying our generation—particularly away from resource-constrained fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy—will protect consumers against supply chain risks, mechanical failures, and poorly managed power plants with bad contracts. By combining this with highly cost-effective investments in energy efficiency, a modernized grid could mitigate peak demand in times of crisis.
Without policymakers profoundly rethinking our energy policies, the Commonwealth’s ratepayers and businesses will remain hitched to an unfair, costly, and unsustainable energy system. Taxpayers prop up the growing share of fracked gas through subsidies and lax regulations. The industry inevitably will pass on the cost of their failures and fines to consumers as higher electricity prices. Businesses and ratepayers are taking on a steep price for fracked gas to unreliably provide Pennsylvania’s energy.
As state policymakers wrestle with their agenda for the new legislative session, reforming our energy policies should be at the top of the list. Continuing to center our energy strategy around unsustainable fracked gas does more than hit our pocketbooks. It will literally leave us out in the cold.
Patrick McDonnell is President/CEO of PennFuture.*
We’d like to know who McDonnell spoke to in the Big Green movement during his tenure at the DEP. Who gave him his marching orders? What permits did he slow-walk in an attempt to frustrate and block the shale industry? Were any ethics laws broken?
Editor’s Note: Patrick McDonnell’s quiet manner may have deceived us. We thought he was merely a patsy for Tom Wolf in the disparate and disgusting treatment of landowners in the Delaware River Basin as compared to those in the Susquehanna. He effectively led the governing majority on both the DRBC and SRBC and seem embarrassed when he was confronted with the inexcusable double-standards applied in the two basins. It turns out, though, he may not have been Wolf’s patsy but, rather, the instigator of the injustice, the fellow who thought up how to get around the fact the DRBC was likely to lose their court case and developed Plan B to take a different tack. His recent actions raise a real question as to who he was working for at DEP. Jim is correct and a thorough investigation is needed. Perhaps Senator Lisa Baker or Rep. Jon Fritz should start asking for one. Lisa, some readers will recall, effectively called out McDonnell while he was still at DEP.
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