A light breeze jostled the ground-level ozone in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse. Workers smoked on their lunch break while several men wired a microphone and speakers.
As the sun shifted, stealing the shade from a row of dignitaries, Heather Sage, vice president of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, or PennFuture, led off at the mike and made a case for wind.
Thus the Summer of Energy was launched Monday afternoon, with representatives from Penn-Future and a clutch of partner advocates to tout wind power sold by Community Energy, a Pennsylvania supplier based in Radnor.
"A few days of unsafe air provide more incentive for us to switch to wind energy and learn ways to save," she said. "There's a connection between our energy choices and the air we breathe. Choosing clean energy is not hard to do. You can get a Giant Eagle gift card if you sign up. It will be one of the most important things you do all summer."
Several companies on Duquesne Light's list of suppliers sell wind power, but Community Energy is the only one that sources entirely from Pennsylvania, said Dan Lagiovane, spokesman for Choose PA Wind, a consortium of producers, operators, manufacturers, suppliers and organizations promoting clean air and a manager for EverPower Wind Holdings Inc., a Pittsburgh-based owner of wind farms, two of which are in Pennsylvania.
"We want to make sure the economic and environmental benefits stay in the state," he said.
Summer of Energy participants include the Heinz Endowments, Duquesne Light, GTECH's Metro Scale Up weatherization training program, Choose PA Wind and Allegheny County, whose executive, Rich Fitzgerald, said the county's properties are being studied "room by room, building by building" for maximum energy savings.
The $20 gift cards are available to people who sign up at www.pennfuture.org/summerofenergy, after which they will receive a link and a code to become a customer. Wind-generated electricity is sold in $5 blocks as an add-on service. Customers can buy as few as two, and the charge will show up on the same electric bill from Duquesne Light. The amount of wind-generated electricity each customer pays for will replace that amount of fossil fuels-generated electricity on the grid.
Wind power has contributed 3,000 to 4,000 jobs in the state so far and $1.2 million in payments to local communities, "twice that in state taxes," Mr. Lagiovane said.
John Hanger, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, reports on his Facts of the Day blog that wind generation nationally rose 29 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.
"For the whole of 2012," he wrote, "wind is on course to produce about 150 billion kilowatt-hours, a big jump over the 119 billion kilowatt-hours wind generated in 2011."
But the industry is under pressure because federal Production Tax Credits that encourage development of wind energy will expire at the end of 2012. Several projects have been canceled, and there have been layoffs in the industry.
Supporters say the need for wind is strong, though.
Monday was the first of a string of code orange air quality days. Orange indicates an unsafe level for people with respiratory problems, the very young and the elderly.
John Poister, spokesman for the state DEP's southwestern region, said it was not very likely the code would upgrade to red with the current weather system in place. High levels are mitigated by rain, air movement and cloud cover. Code red signifies air that's unsafe for all.
Despite the region's strong recovery from industrial pollution, Western Pennsylvania remains plagued by both bad air and the bad publicity that comes from ranking among the worst for soot, small particulates and ozone cover (the beneficial filter of ultraviolet light). Ground ozone, the trapped layer of polluted air, is caused largely by automobiles, Mr. Poister said.
As a result of this unfavorable condition and attention, clean-air advocacy has gained strength in recent years.
PennFuture unleashed its Black and Gold City Goes Green initiative in 2009 and started doing door-to-door blitzes to encourage Pittsburghers to battle global warming, to make the city "even cooler" than it already was becoming in the national press.
Evan Endres, who coordinates the campaign, said that since then, "we've been able to reduce our carbon footprint by 6 million pounds of pollution" from emissions that cause disease and harm the environment. "We know that because of the commitments we have from people making energy reductions. People can report on our website [www.theblackandgoldcitygoesgreen.com] what they have done" to reduce their energy use.
The Heinz Endowments' Breathe Project was established last fall with 25 partners that include the Port Authority of Allegheny County, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, BikePGH, Duquesne University, U.S. Steel and the Hillman Foundation.
"Our commitment is to clean the air faster to reach healthy levels," said Caren Glotfelty, the Heinz Endowments' director of environmental programs. "If we keep demand [for energy] down, improve industrial processes and weatherize older structures, we won't need to replace all the outdated coal-fired plants."
Jeanne Clark, a spokeswoman for PennFuture, said many people don't make renewable energy choices because they think it is expensive, "but it is just pennies more a month." She said people can save by turning off and unplugging lights, electronic devices and appliances when not in use.
Another step is to have an energy audit, after which consumers can get help making upgrades for energy efficiency through the Keystone Home Energy Loan Program, she said.
Duquesne Light spokesman Joey Vallarian said the utility company supplies residential audit information at wattchoices.com and offers rebates, including $35 to have the utility haul away old, electric-sapping refrigerators.
During the recent string of hot and humid days, conserving energy is a hard sell: walking seven blocks to the store vs. driving there with the AC on.
Comfort and convenience have been part of the American psyche for decades, Ms. Clark said.
Ms. Glotfelty said the bad-air rankings help drive home the fact that "cleaning the air is important for the future of our economy. The biggest driver of air quality is the amount of energy we use. It is surprising that so many people still don't make the connections."