Natural Gas and the Primacy of Serving Consumers
Posted July 30, 2020
There’s a basic principle in play in recent news developments in Massachusetts and Ohio – that public energy policy should serve people, not the other way around. In both states, access to clean natural gas, for affordable, reliable energy, means benefits for consumers.
Start in Massachusetts, where the state attorney general struck down the town of Brookline’s bylaw that would have barred new residences from installing natural gas infrastructure for space heating and hot water – mimicking similar restrictions imposed by Berkeley, California. That doesn’t necessarily mean Massachusetts AG Maura Healey has an affinity for natural gas; her decision was based on the primacy of state law and regulations.
No matter, consumers win. And in the process this point is elevated: Public bodies should ensure that dependable, affordable energy is available to consumers – instead of erecting artificial, market-distorting barriers to service.
In an interview with E&E News, Paul G. Afonso, API senior vice president and chief legal officer, said denying natural gas “could have dire consequences for senior citizens, working families and low-income communities” across the country. Afonso:
“Government should not be in the business of denying citizens access to affordable, reliable and clean fuel sources like natural gas.”
In the Buckeye State, The Ohio State University wants to build a $278 million combined heat and power plant, fueled by natural gas, that would be the primary source of electricity and heating for the university’s campus in Columbus.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the plant would generate electricity with turbines and use exhaust heat to produce steam and to heat water. This would be used to heat campus buildings. OSU officials say the plant would reduce the university’s carbon emissions 35% in its first full year. It would increase energy resiliency and reliability while lowering energy costs, officials said – reasons that sound, well, reasonable.
The Sierra Club disagrees. According to the Dispatch, the club questioned whether the university thoroughly considered solar, wind and geothermal energy and criticized the proposed plant because it would use natural gas developed with hydraulic fracturing. This, despite the fact there are 95,000 direct natural gas, oil and petrochemical jobs in Ohio and 420,000 jobs supported by these industries. Natural gas, oil and petrochemicals account for 10% of Ohio’s gross state product.
Basically, the club expects OSU to act as though natural gas’ resilience and reliability – which means energy will be there regardless of demand loads and temperatures – and lower costs and CO2 emissions should give way to alternative energy sources, sources that must be less resilient, less reliable and less economic – or surely OSU would have chosen them. Indeed, a 2018 energy study quoted by the Dispatch said an OSU goal of reaching a net-zero carbon footprint by 2050 is currently “cost-prohibitive” due to a lack of “affordable and scalable technology” that can meet the university’s energy needs.
So, three cheers for The Ohio State University, for recognizing that the real-world benefits of clean, reliable, affordable energy from natural gas are critically important in meeting the needs of the Buckeye community.
Natural gas is indeed a clean, reliable, affordable energy choice for generating electricity. Nationally, it is the chief reason U.S. CO2 emissions have fallen to their lowest levels in a generation, making the U.S. the world leader in reducing CO2 since 2000.
By selecting natural gas for this role in its forward-looking energy strategy, OSU is focused on these benefits and is affirming that such decisions should be based on what’s best for its stakeholders.
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 five grandchildren.
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