HARRISBURG - Seeking to counter Gov. Rendell's $850 million energy plan with a less-costly version of their own, House Republicans unveiled a proposal yesterday heavy on conservation tax incentives and grants.
Members of the House Republican Energy Task Force touted their "no-tax, no-borrow" plan as a way to give consumers more choice in how they conserve energy while not penalizing homeowners with additional electricity fees. They unveiled the plan on the first day of a special legislative session on energy.
"We needed to find a way to spur investment in the energy sector without raising taxes," said State Rep. Stan Saylor (R., York), the task force chairman.
Their plan would offer tax credits for companies that produce alternative fuels or promote clean coal technology, tax exemptions for energy-efficient appliances and home improvements, and grants for "green" building projects.
Rendell's Energy Independence Strategy - to be paid for through borrowing and an electricity-rate surcharge - also would allocate $500 million to the development of clean-energy projects, and offer millions more in grants and rebates for home and business conservation investments.
In contrast, State Rep. Mike Turzai of Allegheny County, chairman of the House Minority Policy Committee, said, the GOP proposal would cost less than $100 million.
In unveiling their plan, the Republicans made no mention of how it would be funded. When Turzai was asked where the money would come from, he suggested the governor's discretionary funds for economic development - also known as WAMs or "walking around money."
"He could give up a little WAM money toward energy," said Turzai.
Rendell's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, described the GOP plan as "energy independence lite."
"It does little to protect the environment and less to protect the consumer from looming electricity price hikes," Ardo said.
Under the Rendell plan, homeowners would be encouraged to install "smart meters" - high-tech devices to help them schedule their electricity usage at times when the cost is lowest.
House Republicans oppose smart meters, saying they cost too much (up to $250) and would punish those already conserving energy or who work evening shifts.
But environmentalists counter that smart meters reduce costs by allowing supply and demand to work in the marketplace.
"All customers benefit when peak demand is reduced," said John Hanger, president of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy group.
Saylor said he believes the governor had underestimated the proposed electricity-rate surcharge for homeowners.
"The governor says it's 45 cents [a month], but we think it's going to be more than that," said Saylor.
Hanger and other environmentalists say tha the GOP task force has advanced "some good ideas" but that they are "too small to make a difference."