ZAGATA: Today, Renewables Can’t Go It Alone

Column by Mike Zagata for December 21, 2018

1. Today, Renewables
Can’t Go It Alone

Mike Zagata

We all share a concern about our environment and what forms of energy to use in order to maintain our lifestyle and position in the global economy.
Fossil fuels are non-renewable and thus the day will come when they are gone. Energy companies know this and realize that, in order to remain viable, they must look for renewable alternatives.
However, there isn’t a magic switch we can turn on to allow us to go from a dependence on fossil fuels to relying solely on renewables. We need a bridge to get us to that point, and natural gas is that bridge.
At this point in time, renewables do not work unless they have baseload fuels like natural gas to back them up. Renewable electricity, with its own environmental issues, accounts for a very small percentage of the ravenous appetite we have for electricity here in the Empire State.
However, without baseload fuels like natural gas to keep our power on 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, our upcoming holiday season and the winter months ahead would be cold and dark!

2. Insufficient Affordable Fuel
Accelerates County’s Decline

A recent article in a local paper stated “there is no energy crisis” and that it’s OK for the hospital and SUNY to be forced to switch from gas to fuel oil – even though fuel oil isn’t as environmentally friendly as natural gas.
That would seem to indicate that there are people in our community so opposed to natural gas they would opt for polluting the environment over using a cleaner burning fuel – natural gas. WOW!
Our area is at a crossroads with regards to our future. We can choose a road where we don’t have the energy, in the form of natural gas and three-phase power, needed to attract new business and thus continue the downhill trend we are on.
At present, 57 percent of the city’s property is off the tax rolls, and thus residents are paying double what they should be for the same level of service. People are leaving the state, and Upstate home values have dropped as a result.
That further reduces tax revenue and, as a result, taxes for those who remain must go up to cover the lost revenue. That description fits that of Appalachia.
The other road would lead us to an abundance of the energy alternatives needed to grow our economy, increase our tax base and thus reduce the tax burden on local families, enable our children to remain in the area while protecting, possible even enhancing, our environment and quality of life. The decision as to which road should be followed rests with all, not just a vocal minority, of our citizens, and must be made prior to developing an “energy plan” or that plan may take us down the wrong road.
For whatever reason, there is a clear bias by some of our residents against natural gas, which is one of the “fossil fuels”, i.e. natural gas, coal and oil for heating and used to make gasoline, diesel fuel and kerosene. That bias doesn’t seem as strong with regards to the other fossil fuels. People drive their gasoline-fueled cars to meetings to protest against fossil fuels, especially natural gas, and they do that on heavily salted roads to improve their safety. They fought against fracking to protect our groundwater yet don’t blink an eye when millions of tons of salt that ends up in our surface- and groundwater are spread by the town, county, state and private contractors. Is this selective approach to protecting the environment deliberate or ignorance driven?
To those opposed to the responsible production and safe delivery of gas, consider eliminating all the plastic products – manufactured from ethane, a byproduct of natural gas – used in daily life. That means no more cell phones, cosmetics, life-sustaining medications, home heating from natural gas and propane, and all steel, glass and numerous other products like our cars and tires. These things, which make our lives safer and more convenient, are a mere fraction of the goods made possible through natural gas.

3. Emissions Are At 25-Year Low,
While Safety Measures Working

It is increasingly difficult to separate the “wheat from the chaff” when it comes to natural gas and the amount that “leaks” into the atmosphere. While there is an issue relating to methane releases from older “historic” and low-production wells that were plugged and abandoned according to the regulations in place at the time, the new unconventional or horizontal development industry is highly compliant and incented to capture every single molecule of gas produced.
As the price of natural gas has dropped, there is an even greater economic incentive to capture and sell ALL of the gas produced. Those of us who have a 401(k), 403(b), state, federal or other form of retirement plan have a vested interest in making sure this is true because those plans include mutual funds consisting of energy stocks. As “owners,” we don’t want those companies wasting money by allowing gas to escape and thus not be sold to a customer.
Yes, some gas still escapes, but to what consequence? In neighboring Pennsylvania, a close examination of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection data from natural gas and oil systems shows methane emissions dropped from 2009 to 2013 by 65 percent despite production growth of 977 percent.
On safety, an American Gas Foundation report found that the pipeline industry spends roughly $22 billion a year on safety measures. It seems that investment is paying off – U.S. Department of Transportation data shows pipelines have a 99.9 percent safety record. That’s unheard of across any other industry or transportation mode.
About 60,000 people die annually and hundreds of thousands are maimed on our highways, but we don’t stop driving. Had it not been for opposition to the Constitution pipeline, the gas now being transported through our community by truck could have used a safer method – a pipeline. A recent study from the Frasier Institute concluded that pipelines are 4.5 times safer than other comparable means of energy transportation.
Yes, there have been a few accidents with the CNG trucks, but thousands of trucks have made the trip and there have not been any fatalities or explosions. Their safety system has worked.
What about environmental quality? We know pipelines are safe, we know natural gas can be produced safely, but what about the air we breathe? Thanks to the recent shift to natural gas for power generation, our air quality is drastically better than just a few decades ago. Sometimes we hear the “either or” argument – it’s either jobs and economic growth or clean water and fresh air.
That’s simply not true; we can and are experiencing simultaneous economic and environmental progress, as a quick look at the statistics will show. According to Environmental Protection Agency data, U.S. carbon emissions are at a 25-year low, and emissions from six key, asthma-causing pollutants dropped 73% since 1990. A key driver of these reductions is the increased use of clean-burning natural gas.

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