Report: NEPA Region Lags In Advanced-Skilled Jobs

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton area ranks near the bottom of the list of jobs leading the recovery that promise to revitalize the nation’s economy, according to a report from the Brookings Institution.

The Report, “America’s Advanced Industries: What they are, where they are, and why they matter” looked at those jobs in the nation’s 100 largest metros and ranked Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area 92nd.

These important jobs are leaving the area, the report noted, with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s employment in advanced industries falling about 2 percent every year.

Many terms have been used to describe the important sector: high-tech, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and now “advanced industries.” What makes understanding the sector more complex is that the field cuts across 50 industries from certain types of manufacturing and energy to computer software design and health care. A STEM job could be found just about anywhere, such as a computer programmer for a trucking company.

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Communities In Motion Honors MCCC, Others With Inaugural ‘Star Award’

King of Prussia, Pa.— Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) was among 15 recipients of the first-ever Star Award from Communities in Motion, a Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association (GVF) foundation.  The award recognizes projects, plans and people who demonstrate leadership in sustainability planning and implementation.

Specifically, Communities in Motion recognized MCCC for its leadership and advocacy as a charter signatory of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and for its sustainability work in the areas of transportation, waste minimization, energy and purchasing.

Associate Vice President for Facilities and Construction Jaime Garrido and Executive Director of Government Relations and Special Events Peggy Lee-Clark accepted the award on behalf of MCCC.

“Congratulations to our first ever Communities in Motion Stars recipients. We are honored to be able to recognize such wonderful organizations, individuals and local communities who are improving our communities of today so that they can be enjoyed now and well into the future. As Communities in Motion continues to grow and expand our programming, we are looking forward to continuing to work with our “stars” so that we can showcase their leadership and use their examples to continue to keep us all in motion.” said Rob Henry, CEO, Communities in Motion.

In addition to MCCC, other Communities in Motion Star Award recipients included the Borough of Phoenixville, Cheltenham Township, Chester County, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, King of Prussia District, Macerich – Tysons Corner Center, Montgomery County, Philadelphia Premium Outlets, the Borough of Pottstown, Saving Hallowed Ground, SEPTA, Simon, URS Corporation, and Vanguard.

Submission categories included building; development; green infrastructure; leadership/advocacy; marketing and promotion of a project; park, recreation or open space project; physical improvements; and planning.

To learn more about Communities in Motion, visit

Since signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, Montgomery County Community College has put into place policies and procedures to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. As a result of its efforts, MCCC is a two-time recipient of Second Nature’s national Climate Leadership Award.  To learn more about MCCC’s sustainability initiative, visit

Southwestern Energy Snaps Up Assets In Marcellus, Utica From Chesapeake

Chesapeake Energy continued its sell-off of gas drilling operations in the Marcellus and Utica shales Thursday with its biggest withdrawal from Appalachia.

Pennsylvania’s biggest shale gas producer agreed to sell 435 shale wells, 1,100 conventional wells and the rights to drill in more than 400,000 acres to Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. for $5.375 billion.

“I certainly think this is consistent with what we’ve seen from Chesapeake,” said Scott Hanold, an energy analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

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Sustainability: Pottstown Eyes Environmental Balance

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

POTTSTOWN, PA – As any farmer can tell you, use any resource faster than it can be replaced — be it wood, water, money or patience — and eventually it will run out.

To put it simply, it’s not sustainable.

And where does that leave those who come after you?

Recognizing a responsibility to maintain a sustainable balance and to ensure resources are available to future generations, Pottstown may soon become the third municipality in Montgomery County to adopt a “sustainability plan.”

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Pennsylvania Electricity Rates Spiking By As Much As 50 Percent

Blame it on the polar vortex.

Effective Sunday, Metropolitan Edison customers will see electricity generation rates spike 25.4 percent.

Overall, the company’s electric bills — of which generation is one part — are rising 16 percent, from $93 to nearly $108 a month for the average residential consumer using 750 kilowatt-hours a month, said Met-Ed spokesman Scott Surgeoner.

The reason is two-fold: Demand during the summer, when prices normally rise, is one factor, and the utility purchased some of the electricity for the upcoming three-month period “during the January polar vortex, when prices were extremely high,” he said.

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Marcellus Can Help Boost Pennsylvania Steel

English: Cropped portion of image from USGS re...

English: Cropped portion of image from USGS report showing extent of Marcellus Formation shale (in gray shading). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pennsylvania is home to the highest-producing natural-gas shale play in the United States, and Marcellus Shale wells continue to break records. During the last six months of 2013, the commonwealth produced 1.7 trillion cubic feet of gas, or an average of 9.2 billion cubic feet per day – enough to satisfy about an eighth of the nation’s daily natural-gas demand.

The continued safe and responsible development of Marcellus Shale natural gas presents a great opportunity to create new jobs and provide economic prosperity in the commonwealth.

With this prosperity, Pennsylvania is taking center stage in helping the United States achieve energy independence and reduce our need to rely on foreign energy sources. In addition to capital investments and job creation in energy, the development of the Marcellus Shale has the potential to greatly benefit Pennsylvania’s manufacturing sector, in particular the steel industry. Perhaps the single most important product used to ensure the safe development of this abundant natural resource is high-quality steel pipe.


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Wind Energy’s Viability Trumpeted In Volatile Market

English: Taken by Neutronic

English: Taken by Neutronic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pennsylvania’s 700 commercial wind turbines loom large along ridges, but their number and size belie their contribution to electricity generation.

Despite government subsidies, technological advancements that improved the turbines’ efficiency, and environmental advantages over burning fossil fuels, wind energy provided just 1.5 percent of the state’s electricity last year and less than 4 percent of the nation’s.

“In Pennsylvania it’s pretty anemic,” said Gregory Reed, a University of Pittsburgh professor who directs the Electric Power Initiative and is associate director of the school’s Center for Energy.

State law requires 18 percent of electricity must come from alternative fuel sources and renewables such as wind, solar and hydropower by 2021.

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Stability Spurs More Growth In Pittsburgh

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its nei...

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its neighborhoods labeled. For use primarily in the list of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Slow and steady wins the race: It works for the tortoise, and it seems to be working for Pittsburgh.

The latest annual “Pittsburgh Today and Tomorrow” report by PittsburghTODAY found that Pittsburgh continues to make modest economic progress after years of decline.

PittsburghTODAY is a nonprofit part of the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social & Urban Research that tracks the region’s progress compared with 15 other areas of similar size, geographic and demographic makeups.

Doug Hueck, program director for PittsburghTODAY, highlighted data regarding population growth, unemployment levels and housing appreciation rates as examples of the city’s revival.

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Pittsburgh Solar Tour To Show Local Applications Of Solar Power

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its nei...

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its neighborhoods labeled. For use primarily in the list of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roger Westman can easily tell when his solar panels are working. On a sunny day, his electric meter runs backward. But his rain garden? To see how it does the job, he braved a couple of downpours last fall.

“There’s good ol’ me, standing out there with an umbrella,” he said, laughing.

So, what was the verdict?

“It worked marvelously. It never overflowed, and in a half-hour to an hour it completely drained.”

Sustainable rain or shine, the house in Point Breeze that he shares with William Stevens is one of 23 stops on the Pittsburgh Solar Tour, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. Most are homes with solar water heaters or photovoltaic panels like the 6.9-kilowatt solar array on the roof of Mr. Westman and Mr. Stevens’ house. But the free tour organized by PennFuture will also include institutions that have gone solar, electric bicycles that tour-goers can try, and a tractor whose horsepower comes from the sun.

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Pittsburgh-Area Hotels Find Niche In Oil, Gas Workers

Locator map of the Greater Pittsburgh metro ar...

Locator map of the Greater Pittsburgh metro area in the western part of the of . Red denotes the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area, and yellow denotes the New Castle Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is included in the Pittsburgh-New Castle CSA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To endear a hotel to the oil and gas crowd, give them a place to eat and sleep at all hours of the day, a place to wash their boots, a warm place to smoke in the winter and a cold beer once in a while.

So goes the formula developed by Tejas Gosai, president of the Washington, Pa.-based business Shale Hotel Inc.  The company is managing two hotels geared toward oil and gas workers, building two others and preparing to turn the Monroeville Holiday Inn into an industry destination for workers summoned here by the Marcellus Shale, the natural gas deposit underlying much of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Gosai represents a group of four doctors, among them his father, who bought the 187-room Monroeville hotel in June.  His goal is to replicate there what he has helped to do in Bentleyville — attract at least half of the guests from oil and gas fields.

The Gosais have been in the hotel business for a dozen years.  Kam Gosai, a practicing physician in Washington County, co-owns the Holiday Inn Express and the Best Western Garden Inn in Bentleyville.

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Turning Cow Dung Into Electricity

Picture 487Dairy farmer Ron Koetsier’s 1,200 cows produce roughly 90 tons of manure daily, and for the last three decades, he has tried unsuccessfully to turn the stinky dung into energy to power his 450-acre farm in Visalia.

He installed a nearly $1-million renewable energy system in 1985 that used the methane from manure to create electricity for his farm.  In 2002, he replaced that system with newer technology, but he hit a snag when air-quality standards called for expensive retrofits to reduce air pollution; he eventually shut down the system in 2009.

In a few weeks, however, Koetsier’s renewable-energy efforts will get a reboot as a new company replaces his current system with one that is expected to satisfy strict air standards in the highly polluted San Joaquin Valley.

A decade or so ago, dozens of California dairy farmers built million-dollar systems called methane digesters that convert manure into power.  Then, unexpected pollution problems, regulatory roadblocks and low rates of return killed most such digester systems, leaving only a handful in operation.

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South Side Site Becoming Pittsburgh’s Second Compressed Natural Gas Station

English: Symbol used for vehicles powered by c...

English: Symbol used for vehicles powered by compressed natural gas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A former Exxon station in Station Square is becoming the city’s second compressed natural gas station with the help of state funding announced this week.

The station, located near the T station at the edge of the Smithfield Street Bridge, is currently under construction.  It will be owned by Desdemona Holdings LP and operate under the American Natural Retail brand.

Desdemona Holdings received a $372,300 grant and $248,200 loan to help complete the project.  Desdemona is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cleopatra Resources LLC, a New York-based energy company with local offices near Homestead.

A timetable for completion was not given.

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Met-Ed To Invest $116 Million

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Metropolitan-Edison Co. plans a $116 million expansion of its electrical infrastructure in 15 counties, including Berks, the utility said Thursday.

In northern Berks, the FirstEnergy subsidiary will spend nearly $10 million to improve service and capacity for future growth in an area now serving 40,000 to 50,000 customers, according to Scott Surgeoner, Met-Ed spokesman.

On Thursday, workers tackled the upgrade at the Northkill substation along Route 183 in Jefferson Township. The project in Berks should be completed by June.

The area includes everything within the parameters of Route 183 north from Route 222 to Interstate 78, east to Route 61 and south to Route 222.

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Gas Industry In Berks: What’s In The Pipeline

Counties constituting the Endless Mountains Re...

Counties constituting the Endless Mountains Region of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DUSHORE – Now that the major surgery that took place last year in the beautiful northern tier of Pennsylvania is complete, Frank Carr Jr. can tell Berks Countians what it is like to have an interstate natural gas pipeline implanted in your land.

You get paid. You see your land temporarily torn up.  You have the right to object.

Ultimately, though, you may have no choice.

“To me, it just doesn’t seem right that they can come in and tell you where they are going,” said Carr, who co-owns a 500-acre dairy farm in Bradford County.  “But I also know they have got to get the gas to market, and it is all a part of that.”

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Days Of Promise Fade For Ethanol

Editor’s note:  Wondering when we will end our dependence on foreign oil?  This isn’t the way to do it!

Backed by government subsidies and mandates, hundreds of ethanol plants rose among the golden fields of the Corn Belt, bringing jobs and business to small towns, providing farmers with a new market for their crops and generating billions of dollars in revenue for the producers of this corn-based fuel blend.

Those days of promise and prosperity are vanishing.

Nearly 10 percent of the nation’s ethanol plants have stopped production over the past year, in part because the drought that has ravaged much of the nation’s crops pushed commodity prices so high that ethanol has become too expensive to produce.

A dip in gasoline consumption has compounded the industry’s problem by reducing the demand for ethanol.

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PPL Plans To Cut Rates For Electricity

The PPL Building (seen here in the distance) i...

The PPL Building (seen here in the distance) is the tallest building in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The state Public Utility Commission really wants electric users to switch from their utility to one of the dozens of alternative suppliers.

But PPL Electric Utilities inadvertently keeps giving electric users more motivation to stick with them.

PPL will cut its residential rate by 4.1 percent Friday, reflecting the cheaper prices it’s paying to obtain power on the wholesale market.

This latest change, announced Tuesday, is the third consecutive quarterly rate reduction for PPL.

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PA Marcellus Topped 2 Trillion Cubic Feet Of Gas In 2012

English: Cropped portion of image from USGS re...

English: Cropped portion of image from USGS report showing extent of Marcellus Formation shale (in gray shading). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and other shale wells produced more than 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2012, continuing a trend of production growth despite fewer drilling rigs in the field.

New production data reported by natural gas drilling companies and released by the state Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday showed that 1.1 trillion cubic feet of gas flowed from unconventional wells in the state during the second half of 2012.

The wells produced an average of 6.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day between July and December, or enough to fulfill about 9 percent of the nation’s daily natural gas demand.  The U.S. consumed about 70 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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PPL Customers Will See About 4 Percent Increase In Bill

The PPL Building (seen here in the distance) i...

The PPL Building (seen here in the distance) is the tallest building in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Customers of PPL Electric Utilities will see monthly bills increase by about 4 percent next year, resulting from recent state Public Utility Commission action.

The PUC on Dec. 5 granted Allentown-based PPL a 10.4 percent rate of return on income for shareholders.  The approval will increase the average bill for residential customers using 1,000 kilowatts of electricity monthly by about $4.77 to $116.37, according to a PUC estimate.

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UGI Cutting Residential Gas Rates 3.8 Percent

Maybe now you can afford to turn the thermostat up a hair.

UGI Utilities said Thursday that it will cut its residential rates another 3.8 percent, effective Saturday.

The reduction reflects UGI’s lower costs to buy natural gas on the wholesale market.

With the latest cut, the average residential heating customer’s bill will slide to $86.17 per month from $89.55.

UGI has roughly 70,000 customers in Lancaster County, about 90 percent of which are residential.

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PPL Eyes New Round Of Energy Initiatives

Got an old fridge to get rid of? PPL Electric Utilities still will take it, pay you and recycle it.

Want new discount-price CFL bulbs?  PPL still will sell them to you.

Hope to get paid for trimming your air-conditioning use next summer?  Sorry, those days are gone.

PPL on Friday asked for state approval of its second generation of “E-power” energy-efficiency initiatives.

The 18 measures, subject to the state Public Utility Commission‘s action, are a mix of first-generation carryovers and newcomers.

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