WASHINGTON – State and federal governments need to cement energy emergency plans to deal with this winter’s projected high heating costs, energy industry officials told congressional staff Wednesday.
States, including Maryland, have taken an active role in preparing for this winter’s energy costs, including coordinating with each other and promoting conservation.
Communication between states and with the public is necessary to deal with an energy emergency, speakers said at Wednesday’s briefing to a group of congressional staff members on Capitol Hill.
“We need to have everyone talking amongst themselves,” said Peter Smith, chairman of the National Association of State Energy Officials. “It’s imperative when you have adjacent states and regions that you do the same thing.”
Maryland coordinates with Washington and Delaware for training exercises and discussions about similar issues and problems, Susan Shingledecker, assistant director for renewable energy at the Maryland Energy Administration, said in a phone interview.
“Reach out to the public and be honest with them,” Alan Bedwell, deputy secretary for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said at the briefing. After initial jitters and panic buying of gasoline following Hurricane Katrina, Bedwell said, the public responded well and calmed.
Maryland is focusing on energy assistance for this winter, Shingledecker said. “The first and most important step is looking out for low-income citizens.”
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich joined other governors and state energy associations in asking for increased federal funding for low-income energy assistance programs, Shingledecker said.
Heating costs from all sources are expected to rise, and natural gas prices for the region that includes Maryland are expected to rise 45 percent, from $730 per household to $1,600 this winter, said Neil Gamson, an economist with the Energy Information Administration.
To meet this year’s need for energy assistance to low-income residents, Maryland would need $51.5 million more than the $34 million it expects from the federal government, according to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The immediate crisis requires the government to help families through this winter, said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, but there are also longer term energy problems that need to be addressed.
There is a strong state infrastructure in place that needs more federal assistance to be more effective, Wolfe said.
“Essentially, states are doing what they can, and they would like the federal government to step up to the plate,” he said in a phone interview.
For example, the Maryland Energy Administration closely tracks heating fuel and petroleum prices to stay up on fluctuations, Shingledecker said.
States need to monitor the market with good data and an understanding of what’s going on, Jeffrey Pillon, chairman of the Energy Data and Security Committee for NASEO, said at the briefing.
It is essential for states to have an energy emergency preparedness plan in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack that disrupts the supply, Pillon added. A strong plan, he said, includes a good working relationship between the state and local industry, training exercises and appropriate security measures at energy facilities.
Maryland has conservation programs in place that are gaining more attention due to the rising energy costs. The state, said Shingledecker, has sponsored conservation events, provided information about alternative fuel and worked with some counties to change their school bus fleets to use biodiesel.