An interesting piece appears in Real Clear Energy today. In the piece, Guy F. Caruso, former head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, writes about 3 principles should guide the new FERC appointee (for more information on the vacancy, read here).
The piece is decidedly pro-natural gas, and while I agree that natural gas is an important piece in our energy puzzle, I do have some issues with his conclusions.
Now, let’s address his 3 points. First, Mr. Caruso says that FERC should not pick winners and losers in the energy market, and that a new appointee should oppose any initiative to compensate coal and nuclear power plants for providing grid resilience. Coal and nuclear plants have fuel stored at the plant sites, and thus are not subject to transportation issues. This is a big advantage for providing grid reliability. One of the drawbacks for using natural gas for generating electricity is that there is very little gas storage on site, so the plants are reliant on receiving a steady supply from pipelines. The trouble is, gas plants are not always able to get the natural gas they need to generate electricity, especially in the winter. Gas plants compete with homeowners for the fuel, which homeowners use to heat their homes. And, when the temperature is really cold, not as much gas can move through the pipelines. Gas prices can spike when it gets really cold (see Polar Vortex Exposes Natural Gas Supply Problem).
Second, he says that the U.S. must fully recognize the value of natural gas. By that, he means coal and nuclear plants should be closed down and more gas plants should be built. He also advocates for building more gas pipelines. At this point in his article, he chides me for my “criticism” of natural gas:
This should call into question views recently expressed by former Missouri utility regulator Terry Jarrett, who argues that fuel constraints and price spikes should make us skeptical about natural gas. Instead of propping up coal, as Jarrett suggests, the better approach is to invest in natural gas pipelines.
The problem is, there is lots of opposition to building new pipelines. In “Gas Pipeline Plans Face Stiff Opposition,” The Hartford Courant highlights the sometimes stiff opposition to new pipelines in New England, where natural gas is the major producer of electricity. New natural gas power plants won’t work very well if there aren’t enough pipelines to support them.
Third, he advocates for increased exporting of natural gas. I’m all for that.
I don’t consider it criticism when I point out some of the disadvantages of relying too heavily on natural gas to produce electricity. All of the sources we use today–coal, nuclear, natural gas, hydro, renewables–have their pros and cons, and we shouldn’t rely too heavily on any one of them as the exclusive solution to our energy needs.
All in all, Mr. Caruso has written a very thoughtful piece. I agree with a lot of what he says. We need natural gas, but I just don’t believe that it can shoulder the entire burden of producing our electricity reliably and affordably.