Privatizing Philadelphia Gas Works: Pros and Cons

Mayor Nutter wants to privatize Philadelphia Gas Works - the city's gas utility. Probably not because he cares about public/private ownership, but he is out for the quick buck for civic revenue.

Now there are some fairly obvious reasons to oppose this as it is an attack on labor, the public sector, and may lead to significant increases in gas prices.

However what most progressive people aren't considering is that the city shouldn't be in the business of providing gas. We shouldn't be profiting from environmental destruction - we should be transitioning to a gas-free future.

I'm not talking about a distant future, I'm talking about needing to half our gas usage by 2020, and reducing it by 85-90% by 2050. And that is only if we cut back everything at an equal rate. If we want to keep an above-average amount of air travel, cow methane emissions, forest destruction, or some other greenhouse gas -- or if we want to let people in developing nations produce a slightly larger fraction of greenhouse gases that Americans do - then we'll need to cut gas by even more.

The only possible medium to long term advantage of keeping PGW public is that it could be easier to plan a transition to a gas-free future if we don't have a private PGW interfering with our election process by financing dirty energy candidates.

A publicly owned water or electric utility is great. Water is relatively clean (depending on the processes used) and you can transition an electric utility to 100% clean power very easily. However we should not confuse these good ideas with a gas utility that should be shutdown.

Advantages to Privatization
1. Take the money and run. The value of PGW will decline rapidly in the near future as we transition away from using gas. The city should sell it and use this money to fund programs like insulation and switching every single building in Philadelphia to geothermal.

2. The city will not be profiting from dirty energy and thus more likely to agree to end it.

3. There will be fewer workers, and notably fewer Philadelphia resident workers (as a private PGW can employ non-residents) who will be affected and thus to resist the elimination of gas.

4. Higher gas rates will save lives both in Philadelphia, in the Marcellus Shale, and throughout the world by reducing global warming.

5. Higher gas rates will make it easier to end our use of gas.

Most environmentalists love to talk about how easy it is to produce all of our electricity using wind, solar, storage and efficiency - because it is relatively easy. By contrast, heating our houses with geothermal may be very costly. We need to start drilling very deep holes in the middle of our city and retrofitting a lot of houses. These retrofits aren't going to be minor. Many older houses will need to be rewired as they have knob and tube wiring which cannot be covered with insulation due to a fire risk.

If you don't do geothermal, heating your house with electricity can cost three times what it does with gas. So many households will see their heating bill increase from $1000-$2000 to $3000 to $6000. For many Philadelphia families this will mean turning the thermostat down to 50 degrees (or lower) in the winter. Unless we start taking action soon to learn the best way to renovate our houses and install geothermal, we're going to be looking at a very awful transition in the near future.

(Note: I'm not an expert, so this is based on my very limited research.)
The transition to a fossil free future in Philadelphia involves
-Installing solar water or geothermal water heating for every house for pre-heating the water and using electricity to heat it more (if needed). Eliminating gas water heaters.

-Installing solar panels on most of our unshaded roof tops that are flat, or have a nice southern exposure.

-Installing geothermal heat and air conditioning for all our buildings by using deep wells (several hundred feet) and closed loop. Completely eliminating gas heaters.

-Using wind power from the electrical grid - probably produced in PA ridges and off-shore

-Retrofitting all of our building stock. Removing knob and tube wiring. Attic insulation. Wall insulation (possibly spray-in). Weather-stripping. Creating a tight building envelope (and then paradoxically venting it as well).

-Reducing meat consumption by 90% (or reducing meat consumption by a smaller but still very large amount and transitioning to meat that produces less greenhouse gases).

-Replacing gas stoves and washing machines with electric ones.

-A vast increase in bicycling, walking, and mass transit. The few remaining cars and trucks should be electric.

And you have to do half of this by 2020, and another 90% by 2050 - or people die.