Although the Sierra Club attracts members who care deeply about the environment, they have opposed the most successful steps taken to lower CO2 emissions.
The Shale Revolution has unlocked vast amounts of cheap American natural gas. This is steadily replacing coal as a source of electricity. As a result, the U.S. is far ahead of everyone in reducing its CO2 output over the past decade (see Guess Who’s Most Effective at Combating Global Warming).
The chart shows the states that have seen the biggest consumption shift from coal to natural gas, and they have correspondingly seen the biggest reductions in CO2 emissions.
This has been made possible by cheap, abundant natural gas which has required new pipelines to get it to market. Transco is an extensive natural gas pipeline network that runs from Texas to New York. It’s owned by Williams Companies (WMB). For decades, Transco has transported natural gas north from Texas. In recent years, growing output from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania reduced the need for Texan gas and now offers a cheaper alternative to nearby states. Transco, which runs north, has added lateral extensions and in certain cases reversed its flow to accommodate these new supply/demand patterns.
Atlantic Sunrise is an extension of the Transo pipeline system. It will bring more Pennsylvanian natural gas to states in the mid-Atlantic and southeast. As with previous steps to use more natural gas, it will provide cheaper, cleaner electricity than the coal it’s replacing.
The Sierra Club opposes everything related to all fossil fuels, including new natural gas infrastructure. They were against the investments Transco made to get Marcellus natural gas to southeastern customers. They are opposing Atlantic Sunrise, as well as other new east coast pipelines. Oddly, they also oppose nuclear & hydroelectric power, which produce no harmful emissions.
Such an extreme view will raise electricity prices sharply, slowing economic growth and weakening support for finding good long term solutions. Southern Australia uses solar and wind for almost 40% of its electricity. Because they can’t use it all when it’s produced, customers pay up to 79 cents per kilowatt-hour to store their excess solar-electricity in batteries, and then again when it’s discharged. This is ten times or more than the wholesale cost of U.S. electricity.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club try to claim the moral high ground. But by opposing all energy sources except solar and wind, they are against the most successful steps we’ve taken to slow global warming. Most of our energy will continue to come from fossil fuels for decades to come. Those of us who care about really improving the environment favor more practical solutions that will sustain long term support. The most meaningful results in reducing CO2 are in the U.S., and those states that have switched from coal to natural gas have contributed the most. Canada’s environmental groups have enjoyed more success in blocking pipelines. The result is that Canada’s CO2 emissions have risen and their crude oil is deeply discounted because of few transportation choices (see Canada’s Failing Energy Strategy).
Because it’s not always sunny and windy, solar and wind both rely on conventional baseload power (often natural gas) to be viable, since cost effective battery storage remains out of reach. Output is unpredictable – clouds can block sunlight, and wind varies with the weather. An electricity grid has to meet 100% of customers’ needs. Peak electricity demand occurs during morning and evening hours, while peak solar electricity output is midday.
Moreover, solar and wind power sources are often located in remote areas, away from the population centers that rely on them. This adds many more miles of high voltage lines compared with natural gas power plants, which are usually located near their customers.
Given the rapid growth in solar and wind, few facilities are reaching the end of their 20-25 year useful life. However, IHS Market forecasts that within three years the cost of maintenance of existing wind turbines will exceed new investment. Renewable units are energy intensive to manufacture and their disposal results in toxic waste. .
With rapid improvements in solar and wind technology, it makes more sense to progress slowly, fully utilizing existing power stations and replacing them as they wear out.
In fact, switching completely to natural gas from coal would virtually eliminate many highly noxious pollutants, provide cost effective electric generation and cut total greenhouse gas emissions by 15%. Natural gas releases less than half the CO2 of coal, and negligible amounts of harmful pollutants such as sulfur, mercury and particulates. Coal is 30% of our primary energy but contributes 45% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, the relative ease with which natural gas plants can raise or lower output as needed will compliment solar and wind once technology allows them a meaningful share of electricity generation. China burns more coal than the rest of the world, and emits more CO2 than North America and Europe combined. China’s emissions continue to grow rapidly, in spite of their increasingly urgent search for alternatives (1.6 million annual deaths attributed to coal). China is an obvious buyer of America’s growing liquified natural gas exports. It’s how the American Shale Revolution can help combat global warming worldwide.
Bjorn Lomborg’s Cool It and Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels both offer thoughtful, sustainable solutions to limit the effects of man-made global warming. They focus on what’s cost-effective, which includes investing in R&D for renewables, a modest carbon tax, and protecting coastal areas against rising sea levels. Solutions that don’t make economic sense are unlikely to command long term public support. Epstein asserts that, “We don’t want to ‘save the planet’ from human beings, we want to improve the planet for human beings.”
The impact of more natural gas use has been cleaner air. Energy infrastructure investors have financed solutions which have been highly effective in achieving CO2 reductions. If you want to make a real difference in combating global warming, you’re better off investing in a pipeline company rather than donating to the Sierra Club. It’s everybody’s environment, not just theirs.
Date: Sep 14, 2018