Forward thinkers Consumer Energy Alliance laying groundwork for nation’s energy future

March 14, 2013
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Andrew Browning
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CEA logo
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Mike Mikus

When the Consumer Energy Alliance began in 2005, the Marcellus Shale was in its infancy as a source for natural gas and oil production.

The group, which now includes more than 300 members, business, industry and academia, has always supported the gamut of domestically produced energy sources – from natural gas and coal to wind, solar and nuclear – But in recent years, it has thrown its support behind America’s natural gas revolution as unconventional gas production from shales has created a surplus that promises to provide both consumers and industry with a supply that could last for the next century.

CEA Executive Vice President Andrew Browning said the idea for forming the alliance was to create a bridge between consumers – both commercial and residential – and energy producers.

The strategy is to enable markets to determine which sources and how much will make up the mix of energy going forward.

During an interview with The Energy Report in late February, Browning noted that CEA recognizes the environmental concerns that come with any type of energy production, but believes that all types will be necessary for meeting America’s vast energy needs.

“There’s going to be an environmental issue with any type of energy; the question is how do you get the best diversification,” he said.

But he doesn’t believe that diversification can be achieved through legal wrangling.

“Our energy policy is in the court system, it’s in the litigation,” he said. “We don’t believe our energy policy should be made in the court system.

“The big national debate on energy is in the consumer voice,” Browning said.

In the last few years, part of that voice has been heard from the power generation industry, which has been switching some of its coal-fired generating plants over to natural gas.

The move is being driven by more stringent regulations for coal-fired plants from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the emergence of cheap, abundant natural gas coming from domestic shale sources.

While Browning said CEA considers the impact of energy production through the prism of climate change, it also promotes the connection between America’s manufacturing resurgence and continued onshoring being driven by cheap abundant domestically produced energy.

“There’s robust manufacturing predicated on secure, low-cost energy supply,” Browning said.

Mike Mikus, director of CEA’s Mid-Atlantic region, testified last month during the Allegheny County Council’s public hearing to review a proposal to allow safe, responsible energy production on land surrounding Pittsburgh International Airport and the county airport in West Mifflin.

Council approved responsible shale development at both sites.

“With the energy-based economy that is emerging in the Pittsburgh region fueled by the growth of the responsible production of the Marcellus Shale formation, this is another great example of the opportunity to create thousands of jobs and bring much-needed financial stability to the region and specifically to the airports,” Mikus said.

In late February, Southpointe-based Consol Energy Inc. completed a deal to drill for natural gas and oil at PIA.

Allegheny County Council approved the contract, with Consol paying a $46.3 million signing bonus to the Allegheny County Airport Authority on Feb. 22.

Under the deal, Consol will pay 18 percent royalties on future production, expected to total $450 million over two decades. The first wells are scheduled to be drilled in late 2014 or early 2015.

The airport said it will use the money to lower airline costs in hopes of attracting more flights, and for capital improvements. There are about 9,000 acres on the airport property that are suitable for energy production.

As for CEA’s next initiative, Browning said it will bring a manufacturing and energy summit to the Pittsburgh region later this year to underscore the ways cheap, domestic energy is driving a resurgence of U.S. manufacturing.

“Energy development impacts everybody whether they know it or not,” he said.

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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