Still plenty of benefits to natural gas

It is with relative certainty that there is unanimous support by mainstream, as well as extreme environmental groups that coal is the enemy in the climate change debate. We won’t make an assumption that all of these groups understand that coal’s demise is primarily due to the cheap, abundant availability of natural gas, as they should be celebrating rather than vilifying natural gas.

Carbon emissions are the “report card” of fossil fuel use — of which there is a finite supply, and carbon emissions from power generation have historically lead all other sectors by miles, primarily from decades of coal use. In New York, Department of Environmental Conservation statistics revealed in 2016 that transportation has vaulted by power generation in carbon emissions, spewing 34 percent of overall state Greenhouse Gas emissions, compared to 20 percent from the power generation sector.

New York has participated in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and also has socialized investments in carbon reductions in power generation and efficiency from System Benefits Charges in everyone’s retail electric bills. Under the continued laser focus of state Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the recently passed Clean Energy Standard provides incentives to bring on even more renewable sources of power generation while supporting continued operation of zero carbon upstate nuclear generators.

The low cost of natural gas has driven two coal-fired generators in Western New York out of the market, and pressures the rest that do not have zero carbon attributes. The combination of aggressive policies by the governor and the low cost of natural gas has resulted in the astounding reductions of emissions from power generation and the need to focus immediately on similar efforts in transportation.

Natural gas has half the Greenhouse Gas emissions and almost no particulate emissions compared to coal — which should be welcome news to anyone concerned about such issues. The low cost of natural gas has also contributed greatly to the fact that wholesale prices for electricity were around $95 a MW a decade ago in the state, compared to $28 per MW last year!

Natural gas is a critical part of the strategy to keep electric prices hedged during the transition to cost effective, and more importantly, the 24/7 availability and reliability of sustainable energy sources — which will take some time. The Governor’s plan for New York to achieve 50 percent renewable power generation by the year 2030 ideally balances our economy and the environment.

It is disturbing to witness protesters in fossil fueled vehicles, coming from fossil fueled heated homes and rally for the total elimination of natural gas, apparently unaware of the devastation that would cause — plunging the state into massive economic harm and deep poverty during a period of astounding reductions in Greenhouse Gas emissions.

New York state has among the lowest per capita carbon footprint in the country while our economy continues to grow, again under pragmatic leadership that needs to stay the course. New York could do nothing else and still be way ahead of most other states in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but our governor continues to advance aggressive new efforts in a cost-effective manor.

Groups that truly care about Greenhouse Gas reductions now need to focus on transportation, and the first place to start is to support policies that infuse major investments into New York’s public transit systems, the single greatest way to reduce transportation emissions with a host of additional societal benefits. These same groups should embrace and appreciate low natural gas prices as among the transition partners to a sustainable future that doesn’t break the bank.

Ted Skerpon is chairman of the state International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Utility Labor Council.