Lycoming County soon may have something that the state and federal governments do not have - an energy plan.
On Thursday, the county Planning Commission got a glimpse of that plan during a presentation by Rachelle Abbott, who has been guiding its creation for more than a year.
Since the state and federal governments have no plan for dealing with energy issues, the county developed its own plan for becoming more self sufficient with energy.
Board members Bill Kelley, left, and Charles Springman listen to the presentation during the Lycoming County Planning and Community Development Department’s meeting Thursday night.
"The purpose of the plan is to provide a baseline idea of where energy is in Lycoming County and where it is going," Abbott said.
According to Abbott, the plan was created because of concerns regarding the affordability and accessibility of energy and the nation's dependence on energy from foreign countries.
The plan examines all types of energy, including renewables such biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, water and fuel cells, and non-renewables such as petroleum, coal, nuclear and natural gas.
It focuses on six energy sectors in the county - residential, commercial, industrial, agriculture, public and non-profit, and transportation - and determined that each of those sectors use energy differently.
For example, agriculture has a heavy reliance on petroleum, while the commercial sector uses natural gas and electricity as its prime energy sources, Abbott said.
About half of the energy used by the residential sector is natural gas - even with a large number of county residents living in rural area who are without access to natural gas.
Because of that, methods for developing, using and conserving energy needed to be different for each sector, she said.
Lycoming County already is developing a track record of renewable energy development. Municipalities, school districts and businesses are seeing the benefits of renewable energy.
Loyalsock Township installed a 15-kilowatt rooftop solar energy project, and the East Lycoming School District has several renewable energy projects, including a biomass energy plant that uses hybrid willow grown on school property as fuel.
The Lycoming County landfill has been converting landfill waste into electricity via the use of a cogeneration plant that runs on methane created by decomposing waste. Koppers Inc. turns railroad ties into electrical and thermal energy, Abbott said.
Any energy plan has to consider natural gas, because shale gas already has and will continue to impact the county, she said.
The rate of gas well permits issued in the county is accelerating. In 2006, only three permits were issued, while this year through November, 323 permits have been issued, Abbott said.
Although the impacts themselves still need to be quantified, it has been determined that shale gas development has or can impact housing, transportation infrastructure, water quality and quantity, water and wastewater treatment, the court system and social services.
Shale gas development also provides opportunities, Abbott said. The Lycoming Valley Railroad moved about 80 railcar loads related to the Marcellus Shale in 2008. In 2010, that number skyrocketed to 6,000 carloads, she said.
Over the past three years, 120 companies have located or expanded in the county because of shale development, she said, adding that those companies have invested more than $300 million and created 5,000 jobs.
Shale gas development in the county has created an opportunity to increase the availability of compressed natural gas fueling stations.
River Valley Transit is involved in a fueling station project that has been spearheaded by Larson Design Group and other local stakeholders.
A key component of the plan is a list of strategies that will help guide the county into the future.
The strategies include advancing local, state and federal energy policies, promoting energy efficiency, demand reduction and the use of renewable energy sources, encouraging economic benefits while monitoring impacts of shale gas development, helping local governments address energy issues, especially pertaining to land use regulations and developing incentives for energy reduction and conservation projects.
The plan also contains contact information for various services that can help residents and local governments deal with energy issues such as conservation and efficiency, Abbott said.
Abbott said the plan should be updated regularly so it conforms to changing policies and regulations implemented on the state and federal levels, as well as development in the energy sector itself.
The county commissioners will consider adopting the plan next Thursday, Abbott said.
During a question-and-answer period following the presentation, Planning Commission member Cindy Bower complimented Abbott on the work that went into the document.
However, Bower said the deforestation of local forestland could be a potential impact of gas development. Bower said she was concerned that reducing the forest could increase stormwater runoff and flooding hazards in the county.
Abbott said Bower's point was a good one and that her recommendation would be included in the plan.