Monday, August 18, 2008

Commentary: EnergyBiz Insider on Natural Gas

A few reactions to comments from the August 13 issue of the electronic publication EnergyBiz Insider:
"Natural gas producers don't need special subsidies," says Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.
Well, heck, no. On the other hand, the price of natural gas has roughly quadrupled over the past seven years. That money isn't coming from taxpayers--it's coming from utility customers, for heat and electricity.
"The good news is that these new state-of-the-art gas-fired plants are clean and efficient and they can be located in urban and suburban areas adjacent to the electric load," says David Manning, executive vice president for U.S. external affairs at the National Grid."
True. On the other hand, their fuel does not magically appear where it's burned--instead, it depends upon an extensive system of pipelines to transport the gas from remote areas where it is produced to the cities where it is used.
Proponents of additional drilling rights say that the two causes do not contradict one another. Advances in technology and safety mean that exploration is safer and less noticeable than ever before. They also say that natural gas does not compete with renewable energy, noting that two are destined to grow in tandem. Wind and solar power are intermittent and must therefore have a back-up energy source.
Agreed, wind/solar and natural gas are natural partners. Gas plants have flexible output that can be turned up and down as needed to follow the variable patterns of electricity demand during the day, or the variable patterns of wind generation.

Still, it's not quite right to say that wind "must have a back-up energy source." Every power plant, whether it's wind, nuclear, coal or gas, must have a backup source, because no power plant operates 100% of the time. What is true is that conventional fueled power plants are needed to meet "peak load"--periods of peak customer demand. Wind's great strengths are that it saves fuel (helping to moderate the impact of fuel price swings) and that it cuts greenhouse gas emissions.


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