Another Voice: New York must balance natural gas use with clean energy development | Opinion

Phil Wilcox

Part of a climate change conundrum is that many of those who are staunch supporters of wholesale shut-down of fossil fuels also vote with their wallets.

Even a well-informed, reasonable person who cares deeply about reductions in carbon emission can also be poised to take vengeance against a political party and leaders regardless of actual culpability for recent price spikes in transportation fuels. Factors beyond politics squeezed the supply/price of gas for transportation and have a majority of folks furious.

The much debated Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in New York is ringing alarm bells about premature retirement of natural gas before cost-effective and reliable replacements are in place and verified. Natural gas is the main reason that all coal-fired power plants in New York are permanently out of service, and primarily why New York’s per-capita emissions are the lowest of any state in the country.

Germany and other countries are now putting coal-fired generators back on line due to the Ukraine war and natural gas curtailment. The US has enormous supplies of natural gas that must be used and balanced wisely, along with ongoing clean energy development.

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Regardless of the final laws that will enable the CLCPA, groups in New York and beyond have successfully opposed infrastructure for natural gas that is impacting supply and price, and we have a live example to see what is coming lessons are learned from the auto fuel supply challenges.

If natural gas could competitively price coal plants out of business in the rest of country, as it did in New York, the country’s emissions would be slashed while energy prices stayed stable during the larger clean energy transition.

While it might seem counter-intuitive to embrace natural gas to reduce emissions, consider that the Southwest Power Pool and Midwest ISO show that coal generation is the top source for electric power more often than not in those two-dozen or so states, and the Pennsylvania PJM system still has thousands of MW of coal generation feeding their system. California recently signed an agreement for a coal power plant to temporarily come back on line because of flawed planning.

Power production must happen, and like a game of whack-a-mole, pound down on gas and something else will pop up, and at present, wind, solar and DC storage barely touch the void, although those developments must press on. It will mean more coal and much higher emissions until renewables and new nuclear can cost effectively fill the void. Folks concerned with emissions will be drowned out by energy inflation on steroids should heating and electric costs skyrocket due to poor planning.

Back in New York, there have been CLCPA comments including a preference for cooking with natural gas over electric stoves. That thought will have a much larger shadow cast over it when folks are unable to afford food regardless of how it’s cooked in order to pay unnecessarily high energy prices, should we not proceed with caution, solid data, and thorough cost benefit analysis that includes emissions .

There needs to be a national policy on emissions. If New York goes far beyond other states with no real emission reduction benefit on a global scale, mass exodus may happen. That’s not a good outcome.

Phil Wilcox is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electronic Workers (IBEW), retired.


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