Apparently we used more oil and coal in the cold snap. That’s bad.
The Globe’s unsigned editorial has identified exactly the wrong culprit, and the wrong solution:
Two culprits stand out. First, efforts by some environmental activists to block natural gas infrastructure, mainly pipelines, have had the opposite of their intended effect. The goal was to prevent more greenhouse gas emissions, but the constraints on natural gas have forced electricity generators to turn to high-emission coal and oil instead. Gas is a fossil fuel, but it releases less carbon than coal and oil. The region would have produced less pollution this month, not more, if it had better gas infrastructure.
My friends, in 2018 there is no excuse for anyone to think that natural gas is “cleaner” than oil or coal, from a greenhouse gas perspective. I find it unconscionable that the Globe seems unaware of this simple fact: Yes, natural gas produces less CO2 than coal and oil, when it combusts. But it leaks, every step along the way. And when it leaks it is 86 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2:
While CO2 persists in the atmosphere for centuries, or even millennia, methane warms the planet on steroids for a decade or two before decaying to CO2.
In those short decades, methane warms the planet by 86 times as much as CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
That is the timeframe that is relevant to us, when talking about climate change: Decades, not a century. Everyone should know this by now. In other words, we have to wean ourselves off of it, now. Such a realization absolutely precludes the building out of new fossil fuel infrastructure, which lasts for decades.
Two other considerations the Globe might have mentioned:
- If opponents had simply gone home, would the pipelines have been ready for this winter?
- How do we know that the pipelines we have are being used efficiently? How do we know we’re not being gamed, Enron-style?
In spite of Massachusetts’ high ranking in efficiency, we have still barely scratched the surface in terms of lowering our demand for gas, or even plugging leaks. And the Baker administration seems deep in the pockets of Eversource, ISO-NE and the pipeline companies, to the point of trying to charge an extra fee to pay for the pipelines (struck down by SJC), and now apparently trying to kneecap residential solar. This is not going the right direction.
THREAD: Charlie Baker shows his true colors through appointees at the Department of Public Utilities and his failure to call them out on decisions that are bad for ratepayers, #cleanenergy and democracy
— Joel Wool (@joelwool) January 11, 2018
We could do so much more, with an administration that wants to help consumers instead of utilities and fossil interests.
There is a significant “perfect the enemy of the good” problem.
Of course we want to burn less coal, and less oil, and less natural gas. By not building pipelines, we may burn more oil for ~100 or even ~250 hours a year, until a combination of energy efficiency, storage, demand response, and on-site generation displaces it. By building more pipelines, we are locking in burning more gas for 1000s of hours a year, for the next 30+ years.
The oil is a molehill we will exterminate soon enough. The new gas is a mountain, a massive problem we won’t easily get over or around.
Charley on the MTA says
Exactly. Why is burning oil for a week not preferable to permanent gas infrastructure?
Trickle up says
The observations about the stupid pipelines are spot on, but let’s not forget that the original plan was hatched with the connivance of all the NE governors during the Patrick administration.
The project was stopped not by Democrats but by grass-roots activism (and, okay, the SJC).
Let us not lose fact of the unfortunate fact that a naive fascination with kooky energy megaprojects is bipartisan.