The golden age of natural gas
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U.S. carbon emissions from power plants have fallen to 25-year lows.  No country is reducing its emissions faster.  Remarkably, we are doing this  while still growing our economy.  In fact, wholesale electricity prices have fallen 40 percent over the past five years.

This remarkable achievement is not the product of a “green revolution.” Yes, we are subsidizing and building wind and solar power.  But despite billions in taxpayer funds, these two power sources still generate less than 7 percent of our electricity. Rather, it's natural gas which leads the charge in our emissions and cost reduction efforts.

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The word that makes some environmentalists cringe – “fracking” - is doing more to decarbonize our electricity sector than any EPA mandate or Silicon Valley solar startip.  Rig hands and petroleum engineers have delivered a clean-energy solution that is taking over much of the electricity marketplace.

Once short on natural gas, the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has turned the U.S. into the world's largest natural gas producer. Inexpensive, abundant, and clean, natural gas is cleaning coal's clock in the electricity marketplace. Just 10 years ago coal was used to generate more than half of U.S. electricity. Today, it's less than a third.

About 350 coal plants have been shut down in the past five years, and there's not a single new coal plant planned in the U.S. At the same time, use of natural gas has grown dramatically. Utilities are converting older coal plants to burn natural gas and are using their existing natural gas plants at higher rates than ever.

Why has this shift from coal to natural gas reduced emissions?  It’s simple -  natural gas produces just half the carbon emissions of coal.

One would think there would be near-universal praise for the progress enabled with natural gas. But that’s not so. Environmentalists on the far left refuse to embrace our golden age of gas.  They are fighting greater production, transportation and use of natural gas at every turn.

While environmentalists pound the climate change drum, they seem more interested in promoting wind and solar power than finding cost-effective solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Basically, these same environmentalists want an all-renewable energy future. But greater use of natural gas isn't an impediment to renewables, it's actually helping integrate them onto the electrical grid.

New research from scientists in the U.S., Italy and France shows that adding more natural gas to the electric grid is actually an "enabling factor" for adoption of wind and solar power, since fast-acting back-up power is needed when the wind is not blowing nor the sun shining.

Natural gas power plants provide this back-up faster than any other energy source.  So, gas is also the perfect complement to renewables.

Actually, greater use of natural gas is proving critically important to our climate goals. It's helping us reduce emissions while lowering energy costs. And natural gas is also helping us integrate more wind and solar onto the grid.

Now all we have to do is more fully accept natural gas, and perhaps cut back on taxpayer subsidies for renewables.

Dr. J. Winston Porter is an energy and environmental consultant, based in Savannah GA.  Earlier, he was an EPA assistant administrator in Washington DC.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.