Unatego Area Landowners Association
Richard Downey explains how carbon neutrality is very hard to accomplish using expensive renewables, the best path is natural gas.
Two reports and a conference warn that climate is warming due to human activity, ie. greenhouse gases (GHG.) This warming will “disrupt many areas of life,” affecting trade and precipitating conflicts.
Let’s assume for the moment that the data warrants the conclusion, man-made GHGs are the cause of global warming. How do we solve this problem? What works?
For smooth transitions to a less carbon-intensive future, the best path is the use of natural gas — the bridge fuel. Two decades of data from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) is testimony to its efficacy. According to the EIA, the substitution of gas for coal in power plants has lowered CO2 in the USA to levels not seen since the late 1980’s. This happened while population and GDP grew over the same period. In cities substitution of gas for oil in buildings has eliminated most sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxides (NOX), and particulates, enabling them to meet EPA standards.
According to Bloomberg, regardless of our withdrawal from the Paris Accords, the United States is the ONLY nation in the world that has a CHANCE of meeting the Accords’ stated goals. No country equals our record in tonnage or percentage of emissions reduced. Fracking has made this possible.
Therefore, a modest proposal: In order to lower the world’s carbonization in the least problematic manner, prioritize the exploration, extraction, transport, sale, and use of natural gas.
Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy and paragon of green virtue, offers a case study. In the year 2000 Germany embarked on as massive transition away from fossil fuels to renewables. The goal was to derive 80% of their energy from renewables by 2050, thus the slogan “80 by 50.” With escalating costs in infrastructure, subsidies, and grid maintenance, the price of retail electricity skyrocketed; Germans pay the American equivalent of 37 cents per kilowatt hour. Here in the USA we average about 10 cents.
What do the Germans get for their money? In spite of massive outlays, solar and wind only produce about 25% of German electricity. Fossil fuels generate double that (53%,) primarily coal (35%,) with lignite (dirty coal) two thirds of that coal. Germany has problems — in the summer, when they have too much renewable electricity, they have to PAY neighboring countries to take their excess in order to maintain grid stability.
In the winter. When there is not enough renewable output, they have to stoke up the coal plants in spite of coal’s emissions problems. These inefficiencies create a dilemma. In spite of potential, there’s no current means of storing excess renewable electricity. Back-up coal (coal plants must be continually running) produces unacceptable emissions that have remained stubbornly constant over the years. The goal remains “80 by 50.” The clock is ticking. Nothing’s happening. Who you gonna call?
Gas producers! Gas has half the CO2 and almost none of the oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs,) and particulate contained in coal. With gas, Germany has a chance of breaking the present system’s stalemate. The 900 mile Nord 2 Pipeline (gas from Russia) is in the planning stage. Dow Chemical will partner with Germany to build a LNG facility. Two more LNG facilities are in the early phase of planning. Gas will replace coal, just as it did in the United States. And, just as in the United States, CO2 will be reduced.
Implications for Otsego County? While green intentions are noble, what good are they if they don’t work? Economics count. France, anyone? Macron raised the price of gasoline 25 cents to save the planet. The people erupted. Cost/benefit matters. Ask Germany. Germans haven’t erupted but Merkle will make deals with Putin to keep the lights on, the houses warm, and a few euros in the ratepayers’ pocket.
The road to carbon neutrality is a long one. Until wind and solar’s storage problems are solved, renewables won’t work. Until then, gas is the go-to element in the process. Otsego County can put its head in the sand and form energy committees that ignore the most reliable, affordable, scalable source of energy (as used in the City of Oneonta, here and now) or the County can take full advantage of natural gas produced only a few miles south in Pennsylvania.
The advantage is Gas Works! If not for irrational ideological politics, it could be here! It could be now!
Richard Downey is a retired New York City schoolteacher and a member of the Unatego Board of Education and the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York.