The Pittsburgh region has a long history of energy production, from its former proliferation of coal mines to a more recent boom in natural gas, and it may be looking to add to that energy profile by transitioning to renewable and clean energy technology.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm visited the Pittsburgh region to meet regional leaders to discuss the Southwestern Pennsylvania’s future in the clean energy sector.
First, Granholm toured a former steel factory in Leetsdale that has been converted into a solar manufacturing facility with US Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and US Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon.
Then, Granholm joined a roundtable at the United Steelworkers Building in Downtown Pittsburgh to discuss the region’s efforts to rebuild the energy sector by embracing energy storage technology, hydrogen, natural gas, nuclear, and green buildings.
Granholm, a former governor of Michigan, said the clean energy industry has a potential to generate $23 trillion worldwide, and that the US should be leading in efforts to take advantage of that potential.
“We could just let other countries take over, but we are getting in the game,” she said. “The president is determined to do that.”
She said that energy jobs in America are growing faster than the economy overall, and noted the fast growth in employment in the clean energy sectors. For example, jobs at eclectic and hyped vehicle plants grew 25% in 2021.
Pennsylvania added 5,000 clean energy jobs in 2021, while the state saw fossil fuel jobs declined, said Granholm. She said she doesn’t want to see fossil fuel jobs stay that low, but added that eventually the state and country should be more fully transitioning to clean energy.
“At the same time we can not let up our desire to push for green energy, that is where we need to be going,” said Granholm.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the region has made strides in boosting its clean energy sector. He cited how Pittsburgh International Airport is off the grid and powered by natural-gas and solar energy generated on site, and mentioned the county is planning to install hydropower generators at dams along area rivers.
He said the Pittsburgh region wants to get a piece of that clean energy industry potential.
“If $23 trillion doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what it does,” said Fitzgerald. “We want those jobs, and Pittsburgh is poised to get them.”
US Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, spoke at the round table and said he believes Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania are ready to lead the way into a clean energy future. He said building up domestic supply of clean energy will help the country combat issues that have choked supply of international energy components, like oil and gas.
Doyle, who serves in the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, praised storage battery manufacturing company Eos Energy Enterprises for recently investing in a facility in Turtle Creek.
He also boasted about Pittsburgh’s potential in hydrogen technology. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure law passed last year included $8 billion in funding for at least four hydrogen hubs, where hydrogen can be produced in a way to limit carbon emissions.
Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania elected officials and business leaders have pitched the region as an ideal as a hub for blue hydrogen — hydrogen that is produced from natural gas which can be used as an energy source in manufacturing and industrial facilities.
This was brought up again at the roundtable, as the Biden administration has launched applications for regions to apply to become a hydrogen hub. But Granholm was noncommittal at the roundtable.
Regardless, Doyle said he is confident Pittsburgh’s clean energy sector will grow.
“All of these investments will only work with a strong partnership between federal government, state regulators, and workers,” said Doyle. “We have a strong track record of this.”
Ryan Deto is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ryan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .