New EESI-Supported Initiative in Energy and Environmental Economics and Policy

EESI is one of several research units on campus supporting a new cross-College Initiative focused on the study of economic and policy challenges related to energy production and utilization; the management of environmental resources; and the environmental impacts of energy systems. The Energy and Environmental Economics and Policy Initiative (EEEP) was established during the summer of 2011, following the annual EESI Center Competition. The Initiative also receives support from PSIEE and the Environment and Natural Resources Institute, housed in the College of Agriculture. Seth Blumsack, from the Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering; and Karen Fisher-Vanden, from Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, are the Initiative's co-Directors. Both are trained economists but work on research problems that cut across disciplinary boundaries.

The Initiative's goals are to create a network of policy economists across Penn State whose activities focus on energy and environmental systems; and to foster interdisciplinary research at the boundary of economics, policy and the study of environmental or engineered systems. "Our Initiative recognizes that society’s energy and environmental challenges are more intertwined than ever before," said Blumsack. "Penn State has long had strengths in both energy and environmental economics across the University, which is a unique and powerful combination. Through EEEP we are hoping to coalesce these strengths into a more recognized network."

The Initiative's activities include running a regular seminar series featuring distinguished speakers from inside and outside the University, and offering support to participating faculty and graduate students working on energy or environmental economics research. The seminar series began in the fall of 2011 and will continue into the spring. The seminars have featured speakers from Resources for the Future and Carnegie-Mellon University, along with Penn State energy and environmental economists. Blumsack and Fisher-Vanden are also in the process of seeking approval to transform the Initiative into a University-recognized Center. Once Center status has been attained, a public web site will be established featuring information about the Center’s activities and offering a public portal to energy and environmental economics at Penn State.

Examples of current research projects involving faculty associated with the Initiative include:

  • Co-Director Karen Fisher-Vanden is a lead author for the IPCC fifth assessment report, in the Climate Change Mitigation working group.
  • R.J. Briggs has been investigating the role of deregulation and institutional change in the electric power sector on air emissions from generating plants.
  • Co-director Seth Blumsack has published two recent papers examining the impacts of wind energy development on environmental quality.  One paper, published in Energy Policy discusses how wind-turbine siting decisions affect emissions from electric power systems (see figure); the other, forthcoming in Journal of Regulatory Economics, demonstrates how renewable energy policies may induce conflicts with other ecosystem management goals in areas dependent on hydroelectric generation.
  • A number of EEEP-affiliated faculty including David Abler, Marc McDill and Richard Ready have participated in an effort led by Jim Shortle to study the impacts of climate change on agricultural, environmental and other sectors in Pennsylvania.
  • EEEP-affiliated faculty also contribute research to the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy-Efficient Buildings.


Seth Blumsack: RPS and CO2 Emissions WECC   Seth Blumsack: RPS and NOX Emissions WECC

Figure: The benefits of renewable electricity generation, in terms of reduced air emissions, are sensitive to location decisions.  The figures above demonstrate that in some scenarios, locating wind turbines in the Pacific Northwest may lead to small increases in emissions of CO2, NOx and SO­x across the Western U.S. power grid.