Pennsylvania Energy Proposal

Four Physiographic Regions of Pennsylvania

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Four Physiographic Regions of Pennsylvania

The varied physiographic features have a marked effect on the weather and climate of the various sections within the state. The topographic features of Pennsylvania divide the State into four rather distinct climatic areas:
The Southeastern Coastal Plain and Piedmont Plateau - In the extreme southeast is the Coastal Plain situated along the Delaware River and covering an area 50 miles long and 10 miles wide. Bordering the Coastal Plain and extending 60 to 80 miles northwest to the Blue Ridge is the Piedmont Plateau, with elevations ranging from 100 to 500 feet. In the Southeastern Coastal Plain and Piedmont Plateau summers are long and at times uncomfortably hot. Daily temperatures reach 90° or above on the average of 25 days during the summer season; however, readings of 100° or above are comparatively rare. From about July 1 to the middle of September this area occasionally experiences uncomfortably warm periods, 4 to 5 days a week in length, during which light wind movement and high relative humidity make conditions oppressive. In general, the winters are comparatively mild, with an average of less than 100 days with minimum temperatures below the freezing point. Temperatures 0° or lower occur at Philadelphia, on average, 1 winter in 4, and at Harrisburg 1 in 3. The freeze-free season averages 170 to 200 days.

From this data, we can gather that this region is the most likely to need space-cooling and therefore initiatives could be taken such as tax credits and rebates on the purchase of Energy Star air conditioning units. Also, educating contractors and residents about the advantages alternative measures of space cooling such as natural convection cooling, or the simple placement and selection of windows could be a concentrated effort within this region of the state.

(2) The Ridge and Valley Province - Just northwest of the Piedmont and between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains is the Ridge and Valley Region, in which forested ridges alternate with fertile and extensively farmed valleys. The mountain-and-valley influence on the air movements cause somewhat greater temperature extremes than are experienced in the southeastern part of the State where the modifying coastal and Chesapeake Bay influence hold them relatively constant, and the daily range of temperature increases somewhat under the valley influences. The effects of nocturnal radiation in the valleys and the tendency for cool air masses to flow down them at night. Seasonal snowfall of the Ridge and Valley Province varies considerably within short distances. It is greatest in Somerset county, averaging 88 inches in the vicinity of Somerset, and least in Huntingdon, Mifflin, and Juniata Counties, averaging about 37 inches.

Since the Ridge and Valley Province has the greatest fluctuation of temperatures within the state a helpful idea would be to have a team of consultants that would be made available to help residents or perhaps a town define what they could do that is specific to their region to save on heating and cooling. Programs analogous to this have been put into practice and have been very effective. For example, Penn State University provides free consultation with agriculture experts to any farmer who is in need of guidance. Also, in order to match end-use to energy source, most rural homes could be heated by wood since the region has so many trees and forests.

(3) The Allegheny Plateau - North and west of the Ridge and Valley Region and extending to the New York and Ohio borders is the area known as the Allegheny Plateau. The Allegheny Plateau is fairly typical of a continental type of climate, with changeable temperatures and more frequent precipitation than other parts of the State. In the more northerly sections the influence of latitude, together with higher elevation and radiation conditions, serve to make this the coldest area in the State. Occasionally, winter minimum temperatures are severe. The daily temperature range is fairly large, averaging about 20° in midwinter and 26° in midsummer. In the southern counties the daily temperature range is a few degrees higher and the same may be said of the normal annual range. Because of the rugged topography the freeze-free season is variable, ranging between 130 days in the north to 175 days in the south.

Complimentary to the Southeastern Coastal Plain and the Piedmont Plateau regions, the Allegheny Plateau will need the most space heating. Tax break and installation refund initiatives could be set up focusing on using low-quality, local heat sources, gas, petrol, coal, and biomass as opposed to electrical resistance heating. Also, education of contractors would help them to build houses with greater R-values without any added construction costs. Education of residents would increase demand for more efficient homes.

(4) The Lake Erie Plain. - Bordering Lake Erie is a narrow 40-mile strip of flat, rich land 3 to 4 miles wide called the Lake Erie Plain. Although the Lake Erie Plain is of relatively small size, it has a unique and agriculturally advantageous climate typical of the coastal areas surrounding much of the Great Lakes. Both in spring and autumn the lake water exerts a retarding influence on the temperature regime and the freeze-free season is extended about 45 days. In the autumn this prevents early freezing temperatures, which is a critical factor in the growing of fruit and vegetables.

The fact that the Lake Erie Plain is the smallest region, 140mi2, suggests that it would be the easiest and cheapest for a full-scale local study. This study would uncover small details that are overlooked by just looking at DOE and US census statistics. It would include a synthesis of local business, agriculture, land use, natural resources within the region, social issues, local taxes, subsidies, and many other sources of data, interviews, and local flavor research that would shed light on “just what does make the Lake Erie Plain region tick?”

These are all immediate suggestions for each of the four regions based on distinguishable physiographic climate and temperature characteristics. Ideally, each region would learn a lot about their area of improvement and document their findings: what worked and what didn’t work. In time each region would exchange what they learned in their area of improvement in order to start to change other characteristics.

Energy in Pennsylvania

As of 1998 over 191 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity was produced in PA. This energy came from 58 utilities using fuels ranging from nuclear to coal fired boilers. 4.9 billion kWh are from renewable sources. 173 billion kWh are from coal-fired utilities, 4 billion from petroleum, 572 million from gas and 61 billion from nuclear.
Coal and Nuclear Power in Pennsylvania

Steam generation requires a heat source such as fossil fuel combustion or nuclear fission to produce steam, which turns turbines and engages the generators to produce electricity. Most of Pennsylvania’s electricity comes from these two sources of energy. The success of coal-based electricity is due to the fact that Pennsylvania has an overabundance of coal. Also, the willingness of the government to subsidize the coal industry has made coal an extremely cheap fuel. Pennsylvania gets 51% of its energy from coal-based electricity generation. Nuclear energy provides approximately 30% of Pennsylvania’s energy. Plutonium, the fuel used for nuclear fission, is not nearly as cheap but massive subsidies by state and federal governments have allowed nuclear energy to become competitive with coal.

Although subsidies are well intended to promote business and comfort, there is an ultimate price. According to PennPirg, a Clean Air Advocate, “Pennsylvania power plants are among the worst in the nation for releases of harmful pollution that causes numerous health and environmental problems including premature death, respiratory aggravation, neurological damage, global warming and acid rain (PennPirg).” Coal based electricity generation according to the DOE, disregarding other fossil fuels, has Pennsylvania ranked 4th in CO2 emissions, 2nd in the nation for producing sulfur dioxide (due to the high-sulfur coals found in Pennsylvania), and 6th for Nox. Since Pennsylvania is a national leader in air pollution production, a primary objective will be to start taking measures to reduce production of these gases.

The ultimate price of subsidies for nuclear is the near meltdown of Three Mile Island, the present risk of meltdown, storage of nuclear wastes, and decommissioning of plants. It is important that Pennsylvanians realize they that much of the price has yet to be paid; permanent storage of nuclear wastes and decommissioning of plants are both in the early stages of action, while nuclear meltdown is unplanned.

Five Largest Plants, 1998




Net Capability


1. Bruce Mansfield


Pennsylvania Power Co



2. Limerick


PECO Energy Co



3. Peach Bottom


PECO Energy Co



4. Susquehanna


PP & L Inc



5. Homer City


Pennsylvania Electric Co


Of the five largest power plants in Pennsylvania two are coal and are three nuclear.

There are twenty-two coal-burning power plants in Pennsylvania ranging from 2,360 MW in Bruce-Mansfield, Pa all the way down to 75MW in Holtwood, Pa. Thirteen have a net capability of under 500MW, four are between 500-1000MW, six are between 1000-1500MW, and three are greater than 2000MW (one plant is unaccounted for). The power plants, their operating companies, and their net generating capabilities (Appendix A) are all important to consider when researching options for either replacement, decommissioning, or retrofit of a plant.

The considerations for nuclear energy, however, are dependant mostly on how the public will react. Three Mile Island, located near Harrisburgh Pennsylvania, the state capital left a bad taste in Pennsylvania’s mouth when it nearly melted down. Since then public support for nuclear energy has been very low by Pennsylvania residents.

There are 9 nuclear power plants (appendix B) providing Pennsylvania with 26.7% of its energy. Nuclear energy in Pennsylvania emits no harmful gases into the environment, avoiding emissions that would have been produced by other energy sources used for baseload electricity generation. During 1999, Pennsylvania's nuclear power plants avoided approximately 382,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, 186,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 16.1 million metric tons of carbon emissions. Avoiding these additional emissions is particularly important to areas that are experiencing air quality problems due to traffic and industry.

Here we see that the decision to promote or eliminate the use of nuclear energy in Pennsylvania is not a trivial one. On one hand, it reduces emissions roughly 27%, but on the other hand Pennsylvania consumers don’t like it.

Change is bound to happen for any number of different reasons. Technological advances in design of coal, petrol, natural gas, power plants have resulted 2nd generation fossil fuel technologies. These are cheaper, cleaner, more versatile and more efficient than their analogues from only 10 years ago. Population growth will place new demands on the energy grid. In the deregulated power market, coal utilities will be forced to become more competitive. This combined with the fact that power plants have an average age of 24 years old and an estimated life of only 35-40 years (DOE) will force coal utilities into some type of decision, most likely to purchase 2nd generation fossil fuel technologies.

The deregulated Pennsylvania market will be the surest measure of what will happen to nuclear energy consumption. The bottom line becomes: if there are substitutes that cost close to or less than nuclear energy, then nuclear energy will most likely be eliminated by the market.

Renewables in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania renewable energy production is mediocre compared to surrounding states. From a total of 4.9 billion kWh, 2.03 billion from hydroelectric and the remainder from sources including wind, biomass, landfill gas, and wood and waste products. New York manufactures over 27 billion kWh with 4.6 million of these coming from wood and wood waste products such as sawmill tailings. New Jersey has no production in this category.

If the decision were made to exploit all of the hydroelectric resources in the state, Pennsylvania could increase to 2.44 billion kWh of large-scale hydroelectric, an increase in 20%. However, an argument exists that large-scale hydroelectric electricity generation is not a renewable resource because dams only last 30 – 40 years before sediments build up and block water flow to the turbines. Accepting this argument would mean that building new hydroelectric generating plants would detract from the Pennsylvania’s goal of constant progress toward sustainability. The option exists then Pennsylvania to eventually phase out large-scale generation altogether. We would see a gradual decrease from 2.03 billion kWh to zero in a 40 year period as plants are decommissioned. This is a viable option granted that there is an overall compensation for example increased use of wind and solar power or simple conservation.

Renewable non-utility generation sees Pennsylvania contributing 2.9 billion kWh. 1.9 billion from landfill gas (methane) produced from the decomposition of municipal waste. Wood and wood waste products make up 563 million, hydro 357 million, and other wastes such as agricultural, paper pellets, fish oils, sludge waste and digester gas contribute 21 million. New York produces slightly over 4.0 billion kWh again greater than Pennsylvania. 1.5 billion is hydro, 1.1million landfill gas, 422 million from wood waste and 904 million from other sources. New Jersey contributes a modest 1.4 billion, 1.3 billion from landfills and the remainder from hydroelectric generation.

The grand totals for renewable energy production are 4.9 billion kWh for Pennsylvania, 31.7 billion for New York, and 1.3 billion for New Jersey. Armed with this information we can now look at how renewable energy fits into the energy picture of each of our case states.
Above we see the energy production by source in PA. Renewables produce125.4 trillion British Thermal Units (Btu). Of this total renewables account for 2.9% of power generated.

470.3 trillion Btu’s are produced in New York accounting for 13.8% of electricity produced in the state.

1.4% of the power produced in New Jersey is renewable. However, Hydroelectric power is negative in this case because when measuring the total contributions pumped storage must be included. This is a measure of the energy taken to pump water to a reservoir during off peak times so that it can be released during periods of heavy draw to ease the demand. Due to thermodynamic constraints this number can never be positive. New Jersey does not produce enough hydroelectric power to obtain an overall positive gain in this area. This brings up the important idea that power storage and transmission are a necessary consideration.

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