Energy Sovereignty

Archives from the Stop the PSU Pipeline Campaign and the early days of CITY-GREEN

Matt Dahlhausen – Wiker Interview Report

Report forwarded by Matt Dahlhausen – 3.11.14 Dahlhausen Wiker Interview Report

  • Interviewer: Alexander Wiker
  • Interviewee: Matthew Dahlhausen
  • Date: March 11, 2014

1. How were you or your organization involved with the West Campus Steam Plant conversion and natural gas pipeline issue?

Mr. Dahlhausen was one of the only students actively involved in the WCSP/pipeline issues. He felt his major contributions were by analyzing what is possible/feasible retrofit technology and providing technical analyses of retrofitting in light of environmental regulations. Mr. Dahlhausen also attended the DEP hearing (to raise the issue that Penn State was delaying a combustion turbine combined heat and power installation, which they are making space for in the plant, seemingly to avoid the new source review regulations that would accompany such an increase in power production.) and participated in a debate at the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences on the issue.

Mr. Dahlhausen has moved away from State College and is not currently actively involved in these issues – although he does keep in contact with other community members.

a. Key issues for you?

The biggest issue for Mr. Dahlhausen was whether the retrofit project was actually necessary. He had prior knowledge of systemic inefficiencies in the PSU heating/energy infrastructure, which raised questions for him concerning the conversion. Mr. Dahlhausen was also concerned about PSU’s path to becoming carbon-neutral and long-term plan for fossil fuels and reducing GHGs. He was also interested in the short-term feasibility of increased energy production at PSU, which was deliberately omitted lacking from the conversion plan.

Another major issue for Mr. Dahlhausen was the contempt PSU had toward involving the community in decisions. For instance, he felt the Sept. 2013 “Our Energy Future” meeting did not meet expectations and was an insufficient forum for a meaningful back-and-forth dialogue with community members. Another example was the promise to provide an Energy Master Plan which has yet to materialize. Mr. Dahlhausen felt that Mr. Cooper and Mr. Novak (OPP) had good intentions but failed at acting on promises (not necessarily their fault) and soliciting meaningful feedback from the community.

Matt clarified: The key issue I have here is that when representatives (Novak, Cooper) promise things (engagement) that they can’t actually deliver on (legal office blocking community review of the plans), then it hurts the process much more than stonewalling, because it gives the public perception of engagement, while doing the opposite. Same thing happened with the planned combustion turbine. Paul Moser and Rob Cooper said in public presentations that combined heat and power (CHP) was a great solution, and that it would be installed in the West Campus Steam Plant, but the DEP permit applications did not include it, and PSU is deliberately delaying the install to avoid New Source Review. Again, presenting the public perception that they are being responsible by doing combined heat and power, and then doing the opposite. This is one of the worst forms of skullduggery that destroys public trust (for the few who happen to pay attention).

Mr. Dahlhausen mentioned that fracking, property values, and NIMBY were issues for some other community members.

b. When first engaged?

Mr. Dahlhausen first became engaged in the issues when his landlord (Johan Zwart) passed out flyers regarding the pipeline. This was sometime in March ’13 and before the council meetings (March 18 and April 1 ‘13). (Matt clarified: I can confirm that it was at least before Mar 18 ’13, probably the 14th when I usually delivered my rent check to Johan.)

2. What happened over the last few years?

a. What were/are the crucial moments/processes in this project?

Mr. Dahlhausen saw the following as crucial moments/processes: the March 18 and April 1 Borough Council meetings, meetings he had with Rob Cooper and Steve Maruszewski to discuss the PSU project plans, Katherine Watt and Dave Stone’s analyses of DEP documents, the September ’13 “Our Energy Future” meeting, and PSU’s denial to let the public see the Energy Master Plan.

Mr. Dahlhausen believed that the crucial moment/decision where everything could have been different was when OPP presented to the Board of Trustees (March 2011?) on feasibility options for MACT compliance.

3. Major successes?

The biggest success to Mr. Dahlhausen concerned the education (to himself and the community) in regard to the interrelationship between law/politics/energy decisions. He also saw his meeting(s) with Paul Moser and Rob Cooper as successful events.

a. Major drivers/causes?

Mr. Dahlhausen saw the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (and CELDF organizer Chad Nicholson) as drivers for public education, in particular a community meeting they hosted at Webster’s on March 30.

Note: These were very important meetings, and galvanized public support for taking action with the home rule charter.

4. Major problems/disappointments?

Mr. Dahlhausen mentioned considerably more problems/disappointments than successes. He was disappointed with the lack of engagement from PSU. He felt there were well-meaning individuals at PSU (e.g., Paul Moser, Rob Cooper) who were upset about the controversy, but whose hands were tied by administration. In some ways the lack of transparency and unseen higher-level decisions felt sinister. Mr. Dahlhausen was also disappointed that Ford Stryker never addressed the public, that the university disseminated biased misinformation (not necessarily intentionally). He also believed that the Sustainability Institute was inept and had no leverage within the university.

Concerning the community, Mr. Dahlhausen was disappointed that most of the community gave up the fight after the pipeline was moved (hypocrisy), and many seemed primarily motivated by property values. Also, Mr. Dahlhausen thought that some of the arguments presented, often by more vocal community members, were not strongly grounded in technical expertise (e.g., proponents of “community values”). These arguments watered down the discourse, presented easy targets for the media, and sapped the community’s credibility.

a. Major drivers/causes?

Mr. Dahlhausen sees major flaws in the PSU governance structure. He believes that the current structure is inevitably biased toward conservatism.

Matt clarified: Perhaps, maybe neoliberalism or plutocracy is a better term? The idea is that Penn State sees itself run as a business, with wealthy individuals as the shareholders (shareholders are not necessarily those with the most money, rather it is financial prestige, “success”, though money is a crucial component). This may be because the Board of Trustees places highest priority on the financial health of choice interests related to the university. My impression is they don’t take financial responsibility in general seriously; if they did, they would be much more energy efficient, and would be working overtime to reduce the risk from their dependence on fossil fuels, and would be actively soliciting wealthy alumni to fund retrofit projects, not showy athletic venues.

The current power structure of the Board and methods of selecting trustees contribute to these problems.

Mr. Dahlhausen also mentioned that future gas prices were not realistically reported in analyses given to the Board of Trustees.

b. Suggestions for improvement (then and/or now)?

Mr. Dahlhausen didn’t believe the major problems could have been avoided, but could perhaps have been mitigated by more training for community members on technical issues and general organization/coordination.

Potential Process for Addressing Future Energy Questions:

1. What would a successful process for addressing energy planning in the future look like for the University? For this region?

Mr. Dahlhausen suggested a “cooperative” process rather than a “collaborative” process. The distinction is that “co-labor” implies merely working together, whereas “co-operate” implies joint control. He is not interested in a “collaborative” process, which implies window-dressing.

a. Opportunities?

Some opportunities for cooperation include OPP retrofit standards (and related pilot projects), community members lobbying for project funding at Trustee meetings, and air quality projects.

b. Major challenges?

The biggest impediment to cooperation Mr. Dahlhausen sees is that the Board of Trustees does not currently see the community as having a legitimate stake in the decisions it makes. If this problem can be solved, most other problems will fall into place.

2. What could help to move forward on this path to success?

Mr. Dahlhausen believes the university and region need concrete long-term greenhouse gas reduction plans. He noted that several other universities have such plans already. Mr. Dahlhausen also suggested that the current methods of choosing trustees needs to change (i.e., only “dues-paying” alumni can sit and some trustees are self-chosen by other trustees, creating kind of an insiders’ club).

Matt clarified: This doesn’t really restrict alumni; I can and will give at least $1 to be able vote, but it is contemptuous of democracy that they tie voting privileges to contributing financially to the university. Again, the corporate shareholder model.

In order to change the status quo, there need to be amendments to the by-laws and a new way of selecting trustees other than elections (perhaps some type of coordinated project).

3. How can the Sustainability Institute be most helpful?

Mr. Dahlhausen does not see SI as helping on these issues. He sees SI as lacking legitimacy and institutional power, and will only focus on non-threatening projects. He thinks SI missed major opportunities to legitimize itself by being more vocal on controversial issues.

4. Who do you think should be involved in a collaborative process?

Katherine Watt, Johan Zwart, Rob Cooper, Steve Maruszewski, technical experts (e.g., Dr. Bahnfleth, Dr. Freihaut), students, OPP, and Finance Dept.

5. Is there anyone else you think I should talk to as part of this evaluation?

Katherine Watt, Johan Zwart, David Stone, James Freihaut, Paul Moser, Rob Cooper, Ford Stryker, David Riley, Dr. Bahnfleth, Chad Nicholson, and Joe Cusumano (PSU professor/ engineer with strong grasp of politics/power/big picture).

Also would be good to engage people with real decisionmaking power, key figures in the PSU gas institute, borough council members (e.g., Sarah Klinetob), and PSU trustees.

6. Is there anything that I should have asked about but have not yet? If so, what?

Mr. Dahlhausen mentioned a need to focus questions on analyzing the PSU power structure. Ask: Who is really making decisions at PSU (e.g., who was blocking Rob Cooper and Paul Moser from fulfilling their promises).

Matt clarified: Why isn’t Penn State much more energy efficient, and why isn’t it working hard to be so? How do they justify a $2.5 billion capital allotment, mostly for new buildings, but spend so little on energy efficiency? The energy program is funded at$60 million / 5 years = $12 million/year.


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