D. Dowd Muska

 

This Week's Column

   

 

Energy: Perfect & Nonexistent vs. Good & Real

August 21, 2014

Cheaper electricity and heat? More jobs? Cleaner air?

It all sounds good. Unless you’re a Bay State moonbat.

As part of its Northeast Energy Direct Project, Houston-based Kinder Morgan wants to build a natural-gas pipeline along northern Massachusetts. The probable route, as described by The Berkshire Eagle, “is expected to angle northeast from an existing gas line coming from New York into Richmond; it would then pass through Lenox … and towns in Franklin County and possibly Hampshire County on its way east to Dracut.”

Even The Boston Globe recognized the billion-dollar project’s “potential to lower -- or at least stabilize -- what are some of the highest energy costs in the nation.” Each of New England’s six states land on the top-10 list for costliest residential electricity, and the story’s essentially the same for natural gas.

More supply is a no-brainer for the region. But the energy IQ of the ecochondriac community isn’t impressive. Along the projected path of the pipeline, a rebellion is brewing, because the natural gas to be imported will be the product of … fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, the revolutionary technique to tap reservoirs once thought impossible to profitably access, is rampant in nearby Pennsylvania. From scant extraction a decade ago, the Marcellus Formation now provides nearly 20 percent of national demand for natural gas. But to those susceptible to professional alarmism, fracking is akin to mountaintop mining and clearcut logging. Maybe worse. It causes earthquakes, poisons groundwater, and disturbs wildlife. Throw in the NIMBY talking points deployed against almost every land-use proposal -- safety will be compromised, “family farms” will be disturbed, property values will plummet, “climate change” will worsen -- and the pipeline’s opponents might have all the weapons they need.

With coal plants being hounded out of business and Vermont Yankee’s closure imminent, natural gas is more critical than ever to New England. Between 2000 and 2012, the fuel’s share of generation in the six states rose from 15 percent to 52 percent. And with heating oil so pricey, many homes have made the switch. (Many more want to.)

Anti-pipeliners’ response? “Alternative forms of energy,” says Rosemary Wessel, a founder of “No Fracked Gas in Mass.” Right. Yet a chorus of voices on the less-unhinged left grasps that natural gas makes sense. A 2011 paper by the Progressive Policy Institute described the hydrocarbon as “relatively cheap, clean, and efficient to transport,” as well as “abundantly available and constant rather than intermittent.” It “can and should,” the think tank concluded, “be a permanent part of [the] balance” between the economy and the environment. In March, White House advisor John Podesta lectured his fracking-fearing ideological brethren: “If you oppose all fossil fuels and you want to turn that switch off tomorrow, that is a completely impractical way of moving toward a clean-energy future. With all due respect to my friends in the environmental community, if they expect us to turn off the lights and go home, that’s sort of an impractical suggestion.”

The choice is indeed “fossil” fuels or nothing, because the bright, green dawn has yet to break for energy in America. Solar accounted for 0.2 percent of all electricity generation in 2013. Wind fared better, at 4.1 percent, but its growth is not the result of market forces, but massive corporate welfare at the local, state and federal levels.

For those worried about “global climate change,” natural gas is a gift. Its use, noted the University of New Hampshire’s V.K. Mathur, “is credited with playing the most significant part in a 13 percent drop in U.S. carbon emissions since 2007.” Earlier this year, the left-tilting Brookings Institution published an analysis of the “net benefits” conferred by new electricity plants. Looking at both expenditures and “avoided carbon dioxide emissions,” author Charles R. Frank concluded that solar and wind “are very costly from a social perspective because of their very high capacity cost, their very low capacity factors, and their lack of reliability.”

Then there’s wildlife. The Las Vegas Review-Journal recently reported that in eastern Nevada, a “wind farm … has been forced to change operations after its massive turbines killed triple the number of bats allowed under an agreement with federal regulators.” The next day, the Associated Press wrote that the birds consistently cooked by a solar-power station in California “mark the latest instance in which the quest for clean energy sometimes has inadvertent environmental harm.”

In Energy Fantasyland, scientific and economic verities never intrude. In Energy Realityland, tradeoffs are accepted as an undeniable part of life.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska. He lives in Broad Brook, Connecticut.

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