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Downtown Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Experts look ahead to the city’s future energy usage

What will Hazleton look like, in terms of energy consumption and production, not to mention green-living, in 2020, a little more than four years away?

How about in 2030, 2040 and 2050?

A number of experts have weighed in on how Hazleton can act wisely to become a green and sustainable city, with the emphasis on taking action now.

Krista Schneider, executive director of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, believes that as parks and more green spaces beautify the city, the quality of life will improve and businesses will become more interested in investing in Hazleton because of the positive energy these spaces generate.

Soon, she said, ground will be broken for a downtown park in the lot where the old Leader Store stood, at the corner of West Broad and Laurel streets.

A large part of her work involves finding the other green stuff — money — to fund such projects. She said she constantly searches for grants and other types of private and public-sector funds to fill many of the verdant needs and aspirations on which the city’s future pivots.

Natural gas

Ed Telatovich, a Hazleton native and a retired geophysicist who worked for Shell Oil around the world, does not see the Marcellus Shale boom reaching the Hazleton area, as the shale here is located near outcrops, and deeper reservoirs are generally much more prolific producers of natural gas.

So, while Hazleton likely will not see economic boom that is happening in places like Tunkhannock, Hazleton also will not have to worry about the potential pitfalls of fracking.

Telatovich said he envisions Hazleton moving along with the country, that is, shifting away from oil but toward greater exploitation of natural gas, given the nation’s shale reserves that can return energy independence to this country. He also believes that fracking can be done safely without environmental impacts.

In fact, Telatovich sees Hazleton becoming more and more dependent on clean natural gas between 2020 and 2050. He also hopes that solar energy will become a greater source of energy. He said he finds windmills ugly and would fight against their placement near his backyard.

On the other hand, he believes that nuclear energy may remain in our backyards and in the nation’s for some time to come but he sees its attraction as fading.

“The public has lost its appetite for nuclear energy,” he said, as issues of waste disposal and the specter of the Fukushima nuclear disaster remain unresolved.

And while coal was king in this area for an historic era and is still abundant, according to Telatovich it is also located now deeper and steeper in the Earth, which makes it increasingly difficult and dangerous to mine.

In his estimation, Hazleton’s future relies on natural gas, which he said could carry America through this century — and beyond.

Waste not, want not

Brian Oram of the Pennsylvania Clean Water Team based in Dallas has an array of suggestions for greening a city like Hazleton, over time.

First, he suggests that all people and government begin by taking “baby steps,” so as not to be overwhelmed by going green.

“People want instant gratification,” he said, “but this is a process.”

Oram takes a different approach to creating environmentally sustainable cities than some might, and begins by focusing on waste reduction.

He is not excited about wind or solar energy in the Hazleton area at this time, since even our best batteries, he said, have such limited storage. And the current models of these technologies, he said, are highly energy insufficient, leading to large energy losses.

Of course, when that storage capacity changes and the energy leaks are plugged up, his view changes, too. But realistically, Oram said that will take time, perhaps decades.

In the meantime, he believes the average folks can look to making their homes more energy-efficient. Replacing old drafty windows represents a great first step toward this goal, he said.

Additionally, he advised targeting the “energy vampires” in homes.

“Whenever possible,” he said, “unplug appliances that you are not using.”

That is difficult with appliances such as microwaves and smart TVs that require cumbersome resets when unplugged and plugged back in again. Oram said, however, there are many electric appliances that can be used without that hassle, requiring no cumbersome resets, so they should be unplugged whenever possible.

He would also like to see the problems of America’s energy grid addressed.

“We actually now produce twice as much energy as the country needs,” he said. The problem, he said, is that most of it is lost through the grid, which hemorrhages more energy than it transmits at any given time.

While repairing and updating the grid is a massive project that has garnered sparse political attention, Oram believes that would solve most of the nation’s energy problems for the moment, providing breathing room to refine other technologies.

In this way, according to Oram, radical conservation appears to be the answer to the country’s energy woes. And he said that while ordinary citizens can’t fix the electricity grid by themselves, they can take charge of their own homes.

He applied this strategy to his home, but needed to find a way to motivate his children to comply. So he offered to split the energy conservation savings with them over the course of a year.

Ultimately, those savings came to more than $600, making his children a tad wealthier and much more aware of how energy usage can be tapered by taking those “baby steps.”

Other steps

Oram also is enthusiastic about Hazleton turning empty lots into community gardens, a view he shares with Schneider, and on a larger scale he believes land that has been strip-mined can be reclaimed, using compost and a slurry of sewage to plant native grasses like switch grass, which can then be harvested to make biofuel to help fulfill the city’s energy needs.

In the meantime, he also believes the area needs to pay much more attention to geothermal energy. Oram said this form of energy could thrive in Hazleton because of its geological formations that can be accessed to both heat and cool buildings, with virtually no carbon footprint left behind.

On this matter, Telatovich disagrees.

“This is not Iceland,” he said, “and we just don’t have the vulcanism here to support large-scale geothermal operations.”

Drilling down far enough will hit geothermal potential, but Telatovich asked, “How deep are you willing to drill?”

Another problem with geothermal energy remains the price, a factor it shares with solar and wind energy. To convert the average home to geothermal energy, Oram said, would cost about $60,000.

–By 2020: Krista Schneider, executive director of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, sees more green spaces throughout the city. Optimistically, she anticipates a green boulevard on Broad Street downtown, as sidewalks are also planted for beauty, oxygen production and water conservation. The city becomes more “walkable,” as neighborhoods are bouncing back from blight and thriving. “Green space” becomes part of Hazleton’s new normal. Ed Telatovich, a retired geophysicist, sees the power of natural gas beginning to show its potential.

–By 2030: Schneider hopes to witness all vacant lots put to good use as either parks or community gardens that will be tended and cherished by community members. Brian Oram of the Pennsylvania Clean Water Team sees green mentorship programs in local schools preparing students for an array of green careers including green building with entrepreneurship opportunities. Cars powered by natural gas are now commonplace.

–By 2040: Schneider conceptualizes the city as largely powered by solar energy, produced locally, with the possibility of the city producing enough solar power to sell back to power companies. Oram foresees Hazleton filled with green builders who are re-engineering older structures and building green, self-sustained new ones. Natural gas is the new gasoline.

–By 2050: Schneider predicts that every building in Hazleton will tap into some sort of renewable energy technology, bringing the city greater locally generated wealth and energy independence. Hazleton is on its way to being a model green city, with green engineers, builders and business people involved in maintaining a vibrant economy. In Oram’s vision, this happens as a result of mentorship occurring 20-plus years earlier. Hazleton still reveres its history but has sloughed off coal and oil, although these fossils are not extinct, just drastically rarer and glaringly expensive. Hazleton stays illuminated and warm with a combination of alternative energy sources and natural gas.

This article was written by Maria Jacketti from Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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