Op-Ed: Changing Hearts and Minds in Coal Country

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

By Kelly Forest

June 20, 2023

Pennsylvania may be the historical heart of American coal country, but as Kelly Forest writes, people across the commonwealth are excited about the prospect of transitioning to clean energy and saving money on energy costs thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act.

In Pennsylvania’s coal country, I often meet folks that believe our dependence on fossil fuels is intertwined with our livelihood as a state. Some believe it’s too cloudy to produce solar energy. Others think electric vehicles won’t get them where they need to go. Or that the switch to clean energy is unaffordable. But all of those assumptions simply aren’t true.

After decades of misinformation campaigns by big oil corporations, it’s not surprising that Americans are hesitant or untrusting of renewable energy. And with oil and gas companies lobbying our government to impede the clean energy transition, Americans face real barriers to reducing their carbon footprint.

With every delay, we lose precious time to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. In Pennsylvania, these impacts include an increase in extreme heat waves, more extreme rainfall and greater damage from flooding, more drought, worse air quality, and agricultural losses.

But with the Biden administration, our country is finally making real progress on climate change in a way that will cut costs for everyday Americans. Enacted last year, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) makes it easier than ever for Pennsylvanians to make their homes more energy efficient and reduce their fossil fuel emissions.

Our home has a geothermal heat pump and has been powered by solar energy since 2019. Now, we pay $0 for our energy and sell our energy produced back to the grid. Re-insulating our home reduced our energy usage by 40% alone. But for too long, upgrades like these have been kept out of reach of people who can’t afford steep upfront installation costs.  

Since the IRA increased solar installation tax credits to offset more of the installation costs, the White House estimates that about 610,000 additional Pennsylvanians will install residential solar. The law also created direct rebate programs to help lower-to-middle-income households install energy-efficient appliances and make upgrades to reduce their energy consumption. In total, millions of low-to-moderate-income households in Pennsylvania will be able to cut up to $1,800 a year —- or 30% — from their energy bills.

When I heard of this transformative investment, I began to share it with my neighbors and local community. As someone who has been through the process of re-insulating their home, installing solar, and purchasing an electric vehicle, I wanted to help as many people as possible take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cut their energy costs while protecting our planet.  

Despite living in the heart of American coal country, Pennsylvanians are responding to this information with interest and excitement. Even clean-energy skeptics are interested in the opportunity to save money on their energy bills. In connecting with my neighbors, I realize lowering our fossil fuel consumption isn’t a partisan issue. When we talk about cost savings, we realize most of us have the same interests. Even if we don’t agree 100%, I can find some common ground with my neighbors. 

Pennsylvania has a long history with coal. Some people believe the transition to renewables will lead to job loss. But several analyses indicate the opposite, finding that the IRA will create roughly 200,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania, while increasing demand for domestically-made parts across the country. Not only will we be bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, but these investments will also contribute to declining costs of renewable energy production in the long run.

With oil companies raking in record profits while raising prices on Americans, it’s long overdue that we begin taking meaningful steps toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. The Biden administration has finally unleashed the shackles that hindered clean energy companies from competing with oil and gas, cut costs for everyday Americans, and created good-paying jobs. The IRA shows that even coal country has a clean, green future.

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