THIS WEEK will see a record number of hearings related to PGW and the city's role in the future of energy.
There'll be hearings, but the question is, will there be any listening?
Tomorrow and Friday, City Council is holding hearings that members are billing as a way to explore opportunities for the city to become a regional energy hub.
What exactly does that mean?
The "energy hub" concept is not one concocted by Council, but embraced by certain members relatively recently. The idea - that Philadelphia's location and infrastructure make us a natural choice for becoming a global center for receiving, refining and transporting fuels, like oil and gas - has gained increasing traction over the past few years. The discovery and development of the Marcellus Shale gas naturally added additional heat to the conversation. An energy hub represents an intriguing potential, and certainly a good subject for a public hearing.
And yet, we can't help thinking that Council is not necessarily equipped to ensure a full and deep exploration of this potential, since the ownership of PGW is a key issue in how the city might move forward as a hub.
Becoming a hub requires a big vision. But the lack of vision exhibited by Council in its recent derailing of the sale of PGW to UIL Holdings Ltd. makes us question Council's true motivations underlying its embrace of the "energy hub" idea.
Back in March, UIL made a $1.86 billion bid for PGW. When Council received the bid from the Nutter administration, it hired its own consultant, Concentric, to do due diligence on the offer. After numerous delays and no public hearings, Council announced in late October that it decided against the sale. (Such a sale would have to be voted on by Council.)
We don't know why, exactly. The report Council commissioned, in fact, pointed to the fairness of the UIL offer. The report did not mention that some Council members felt "left out" of the process by Nutter, and suggest that as a reason for killing the deal.
Council did not deign to inform the public through hearings or in any other way why they decided selling PGW was a bad idea - which, while on more solid management footing than in the past, still has huge aging infrastructure and a $1 billion debt. Or where else the city might get the money to shore up the ailing pension fund - which PGW's sale would have helped.
It's hard to imagine how we have a grown-up conversation about the city as an energy hub if it doesn't include a full vetting of the PGW ownership issue.
Those members of the public wishing to learn more about the proposed PGW sale can attend a hearing, also later this week, hosted by the Public Utilities Commission. The PUC, which was in favor of the PGW sale, will more fully vet the issue.
Unfortunately, that hearing also conflicts with Council's hearing, so Council President Darrell Clarke probably won't be in attendance. And that's a shame: We'll miss a chance to hear more of his reasoning on killing the PGW sale, and he'll miss a chance to see how a public hearing is done.
The City Council hearings will be held in Council chambers from 2 to 5 p.m. tomorrow and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. The PUC hearing will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at Drexel University's Behrakis Grand Hall, 32nd and Chestnut streets.