If we truly want to reduce carbon emissions and make the biggest possible environmental difference right now at the least cost, the answer is natural gas.
We’ve put a lot of words to work on this blog extolling the fact natural gas has helped reduce carbon and other emissions faster than anyone thought possible before the shale revolution. This year alone, for example, we’ve already run several stories (here, here and here, for example) noting the role of natural gas in lowering CO2, not to mention related pieces here and here.
The evidence natural gas has helped lower emissions is overwhelming when one looks at the way conversions from coal and oil to natural gas have reduced the carbon quotient associated with making electricity and heating homes. It’s also substantially reduced the costs of both and dramatically improved health conditions in places such as New York City.
What we have not done nearly as well is to point out two associated facts about natural gas; it’s here now for immediate use and it requires no subsidies, meaning it offers the capacity for massive further environmental improvements now with no effort required but to allow it.
One of our many astute readers sent me several links last night to illustrate these points. This New York Times piece on the bankruptcy and bleak future of Westinghouse, the nuclear energy developer, is among them. Nuclear energy, of course, is carbon free and, for that reason, should almost certainly be part of our energy mix, but lots of folks don’t like it and it’s extremely expensive. Andrew Cuomo now wants ratepayers to subsidize it upstate, in fact, even as he rushes to close the Indian Point facility in his own backyard of Westchester County. It no longer can compete on its own as “tumbling prices for natural gas have eroded the economic rationale for nuclear power, which is extremely costly and technically challenging to develop.”
Given this, it hardly makes sense for government to pick nuclear as one of its designated winners in the energy game. It can play a role, but the time and money involved are just too much to make a meaningful difference, especially when compared to natural gas, which is far cheaper, dispatchable right now and has the tangible side benefit of stimulating rural economies where it’s produced.
Coal, believe it or not, is also making a move to the clean side, which is hardly a bad thing, but is it really going to ever make the difference natural gas is making right here, right now? Buried deep in a Bloomberg article on the Paris climate accords is this:
Coal producers Cloud Peak Energy Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp. also are lobbying in favor of the accord, even though the miners could be disadvantaged by a global shift toward cleaner sources of electricity. Cloud Peak pitches the Paris agreement as a platform for the U.S. to advocate using carbon capture and other high-efficiency, low-emissions technology to generate electricity from coal.
This is a recognition from the coal industry that reducing emissions is what it’s all about today. Bully for them, but they’re late to the game. Natural gas is already doing it and is cost-competitive with unclean coal. Clean coal will be more expensive and less competitive coal. Moreover, clean coal will never be as clean as natural gas. And, it how long and how much money will it take to get to clean coal. Natural gas is clean today and already producing massive reductions in emissions.
Renewables, you might say, but these, too, are massively subsidized and massively land-consuming and land-disturbing. I have sat through more than one hearing, in fact, as neighbors of solar and wind project told local officials how much they like the idea of renewable energy but don’t want it anywhere near them. There are many good such projects, of course, and I’ve worked on some of them, but any thought they are painless and welcomed by all is naive. Add the subsidy problem to this and it becomes quite clear, quite quickly, that renewables are no panacea.
Natural gas is certainly no panacea either, but it has the competitive advantages of low cost and high effectiveness combined with the compelling point that it is here and now. No delays or subsidies are involved and it is proven strategy for rural economic revitalization to boot. What’s not to like about that? Nothing. Natural gas is, far and away, the best and easiest way to make a difference when it comes to lowering carbon and other emissions, while improving health and producing economic development.