Tags: self | imposed | energy | blockade

Our Self-Imposed Blockade Hinders Energy Progress

Our Self-Imposed Blockade Hinders Energy Progress
Adrian825 | Dreamstime.com

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Wednesday, 19 June 2019 08:06 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Energy demand in the Northeast United States continues to be strong. Over the past few years, this has become quite evident in New England during the winter months, when a convergence of factors has created an energy shortage that is impacting electricity supply in the region.

Absent changes, the outlook appears bleak in terms of regional supply constraints, especially during peak demand periods.

Over the past decade, the region’s energy mix has changed, as coal and nuclear facilities have retired while natural gas and renewables generation have increased.

According to ISO New England, which manages electricity transmission in six states, 49 percent of the region’s electricity currently comes from natural gas generation. Another 30 percent comes from nuclear, 10.4% from renewables and 8.4% from hydroelectric.

However, efforts to meet energy needs by building new natural gas pipelines that would bring gas from the Marcellus Shale play in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to New England are being thwarted by staunch opposition from environmental NGOs, local communities, the states of New York and New Jersey (through which the pipelines would need to pass) and even the New England states and ISO.

While New England has not surprisingly set ambitious goals for future renewable energy supply and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, the region and its neighbors are supporting policies that will discourage growth of renewables and lower GHG emissions by choking off access to domestically produced natural gas.

With nearly half of the region’s electricity demand coming from natural gas, and renewables significantly growing its share of supply, adequate gas supplies are critical for the region.

Current pipeline capacity in New England is clearly inadequate to meet demand peaks, especially during period of extreme cold, as witnessed during recent cold spells like the one in winter 2017-2018 when natural gas prices spiked to as high as $78.98 per MMBtu.

There was simply not enough gas capacity to meet the spike in demand. Wind, solar and hydro sources were not physically capable of increasing generation. Nuclear generation was at maximum capacity. Imported electricity supply, primarily from Quebec hydro, actually declined as demand also spiked on the other side of the border.

Given the lack of additional gas supply, New England power generators were forced to boost oil-fired generation and maximize coal-fired generation, a result that seems to run contrary to the region’s goals of reducing GHG emissions.

Additional natural gas supplies eventually were able to help meet regional demand (and continue to), but through LNG imports, much of which were from Russia. This means that in order for the region to meet high demand, it had to rely on generation from the highest GHG emitting sources or from foreign sources of natural gas from a geopolitical adversary.

With existing pipeline constraints and continued opposition to new pipelines being built, both natural gas suppliers and power generators are seeking alternative ways to get U.S. natural gas to New England. Options include sending LNG to the region by truck or by railcar.

While moving LNG to the region by boat from other parts of the U.S. is theoretically a potential solution, it is not currently a practicable one due to restrictions on using non U.S. vessels and crews to transport goods from one domestic point to another.

In essence, we are imposing an energy blockade on ourselves by creating barriers toward the use of clean-burning domestic fuel that could otherwise help power, light, and heat an entire region while lowering emissions and facilitating greater use of renewables.

New England is a potentially classic case of how natural gas and renewables could work symbiotically to meet a region’s energy demand with clean, domestically produced energy, while meeting GHG emissions reduction goals and reducing our dependence on foreign countries to meet our needs here at home.

Gas is the ideal solution to the intermittency issues that wind and solar face, and its use will be increasingly required to meet the region’s ambitious renewable and GHG emissions goals.

If common sense can prevail, a clear path forward is right there for the taking.

Jack Belcher is senior vice president of Cornerstone Energy Solutions and advises energy, transportation and financial services clients on government relations, regulatory affairs, risk management, ESG management, coalition building and stakeholder relations. He is also managing director of the National Ocean Policy Coalition.

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JackBelcher
If common sense can prevail, a clear path forward is right there for the taking.
self, imposed, energy, blockade
718
2019-06-19
Wednesday, 19 June 2019 08:06 AM
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