Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett defends changes to renewable energy programs, staffing after criticism that his administration is crippling renewable efforts in favor of shale gas industry

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania , August 18, 2011 () – The Corbett administration on Monday defended its policies on renewable energy and conservation, and said it is not putting aside those efforts in favor of Pennsylvania's booming natural gas industry.

The administration made the statements in response to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story that said the administration is stripping employees from renewable energy and conservation programs.

The newspaper also reported that the administration is forbidding state executive agencies from signing clean-energy contracts.

The programs were emphasized by previous governors, but the Corbett administration says the changes are merely part of the new approach by Gov. Tom Corbett's energy executive, Patrick Henderson, it said.

"Gov. Corbett understands the critical importance of all energy resources, including renewables, both to our economy and our quality of life," Henderson wrote in a letter Monday responding to the Post-Gazette story. "He remains committed to policies which respect taxpayer dollars and grow all our energy industries in a sustainable manner."

Henderson said the Office of Energy and Technology Deployment in the state Department of Environmental Protection was renamed, not disbanded, and he said the Guaranteed Energy Savings Act program, which helps school districts and local governments invest in energy conservation project, is under review.

The office that administers the Guaranteed Energy Savings Act program is one of several that lost employees, the Post-Gazette reported.

Rep. William Adolph, R-Delaware, who wrote the Energy Savings Act, is talking to Corbett's office about how the program will be administered, said Adolph's spokesman, Mike Stoll.

"We're still working with the administration to understand its position on the program," Stoll told the Post-Gazette. "It's saying this is part of a consolidation of programs, but that doesn't change the requirements of the act."

Christina Simeone, director of the Energy Center for environmental advocacy group PennFuture, and formerly the special assistant for energy and climate at the DEP, told the Post-Gazette she worries that changes in policy and reductions in staff are crippling.

"I have concerns about whether the remaining staff of every office can handle the required workloads," Simeone said. "The programs and staff have been marginalized so much."

At the beginning of the year, the state was buying 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, the Post-Gazette reporting, citing PennFuture.

Henderson said the prior administration, under former Gov. Ed Rendell, simply signed contracts with companies from Texas and Colorado to buy energy credits for the right to claim in advertising campaigns that Pennsylvania was supporting renewable energy. He also said PennFuture had received a $138,000 grant from the Rendell administration to educate the public about renewable energy.

A Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, Katy Gresh, told the Post-Gazette that eliminating the renewable energy purchase program will save the state nearly $1 million.

She also said a $1 million grant program for small business energy efficiency and another efficiency program under development that would use $1.5 million from the federal government is proof of the administration's continued commitment to energy conservation.

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