Serve Consumers; Build Natural Gas Pipelines
Posted April 1, 2019
We get it: Folks with some environmental groups don’t like plentiful, affordable natural gas.
It doesn’t fit their definition of “clean energy” – which is odd, given the fact that clean natural gas is the main reason U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector are at their lowest level in a generation. And natural gas is winning in the marketplace because it’s plentiful and affordable, which consumers like.
In this worldview, shivering consumers in chilly New England and New York, who can’t fully enjoy the benefits of America’s natural gas abundance because there’s not enough pipeline capacity to serve them during peak, wintertime periods, should be told to hang in there while more studying, planning and assessing is done. Miles Farmer of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):
[I]t’s time for utilities to flip the script. Instead of asking what gas supply arrangements are needed to meet growing demand, they should instead ask first: “What investments in clean non-pipeline alternatives can we make in order to avoid the need for new gas infrastructure?”
Sure, adding insulation and sealing drafts, as Farmer suggests, are good ideas. But they won’t keep you warm if there’s no heat in your home. Install an electric heat pump? Fine, what’s the fuel for generating the electricity to run it?
Farmer is arguing for mandates to force consumers who want natural gas to accept something else because that’s NRDC's view. That’s not the market working, and it’s not how to achieve better, cleaner, lower-cost outcomes for consumers.
The consumer-focused solution isn’t government mandates or more programs, studies and exercises. It’s building sufficient natural gas infrastructure so that more Americans can benefit from America’s natural gas wealth.
Consumer demand for natural gas has grown exponentially within the last decade. Natural gas heats homes, prepares meals and fuels the generation of a third of our electricity – a number the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects could increase to more than 50 percent in 2040.
Building infrastructure to meet consumers’ rising demand for natural gas is critical in places like New York, where temperatures are brutally cold in the winter and many people are still forced to rely on heating oil in their homes. Con Edison’s recently announced moratorium on new natural gas service to homes and businesses in the southern part of affluent Westchester County, just north of New York City – is a loud wakeup call to the entire state on the consequences of stalling or blocking critical pipeline infrastructure. From POLITICO coverage of the issue:
“The moratorium is the result of high gas demand on the coldest winter days and the limited pipeline capacity in the area. While Con Edison proposed non-pipeline alternatives in an attempt to avoid blocking new gas hookups, the proposals were ultimately not enough to alleviate the need for a new pipeline.”
New England has long struggled to supply enough natural gas to keep people warm and safe during winter months, causing shortages and creating unnecessary stress on the power grid because of a severe lack of sufficient infrastructure in the region, and sending spot prices through the roof.
Renewable sources of energy for generating electricity are part of the country’s current energy mix and will be in the future. But they must be partnered with natural gas to grow, because natural gas is uniquely positioned to provide necessary reliability attributes that ensure the health of the U.S. electric grid.
The United States is an energy superpower, and our record production has benefited consumers, helped spur a domestic manufacturing renaissance and helped the U.S. lead the world in reducing emissions. Yet, many Americans are missing out on the benefits of our nation’s energy resources simply because of bad policies and barriers to infrastructure development. It’s entirely unacceptable – as are suggestions that consumers in some regions of the country should cool their heels for another winter to turn to spring.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.