U.S. Becoming Too Dependent on Natural Gas for Energy

Via the Las Cruces Sun-News:

There is no overstating the extent to which the United States is quickly becoming over-dependent on one fuel for production of electricity – natural gas. This growing reliance exposes consumers of natural gas and electricity to the risk of sudden spikes in prices – and a loss of reliability.

Parts of the country that depend on natural gas for more than 50 percent of their electricity (New England, Florida and California) have already had warnings of potential power shortages. The underlying cause has been all but ignored: across the country, dozens of “base-load” coal and nuclear plants have shut down.

And, over-estimating the contribution from renewable resources is also having an impact on capacity. Nationally, solar and wind power combined account for barely 7 percent of the electricity supply. Since 1995, about 80 percent of all generating capacity built in the U.S. – some 350,000 megawatts — has been gas-fired. Many are now being used instead of coal and nuclear to provide base-load electricity around the clock. As much as 100,000 megawatts of additional gas-fired capacity is expected to be added in the next decade. By contrast, less than 10,000 megawatts of new coal and nuclear capacity is expected by 2020. A diverse mix of generating options is essential for a resilient system. If current trends continue, that diversity will be at serious risk.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has proposed a way to deal with this looming problem. He has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to use its authority to keep coal and nuclear plants open. The effect of power shortages can easily be limited or even eliminated, he says, if utilities with coal and nuclear plants are paid for contributing to the resilience and reliability of the electric grid.

Here in the Southwest, coal plants contribute to the fuel diversity that is one of the bedrock characteristics of a reliable and resilient electric sector. This is one of the unrecognized values of coal power. It is not monetized by markets. It does not show up in value calculations. But it exists nonetheless.

 The long-term fundamentals support continued reliance on, and expansion of, coal and nuclear power. The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts a 28 percent increase in demand for electricity through 2040 – and that assumes average annual growth in electricity demand of less than 1 percent a year. Even at that modest growth, the United States would need 339,000 megawatts of new capacity to meet new demand and to replace generating capacity that is long past its prime.

Can the U.S. natural gas resource base support this level of production? Probably, but that’s not the issue. The resource base, due to the shale revolution, is huge. The question is whether the necessary infrastructure – pipelines, gas processing facilities, gas storage tanks and so forth – will be built at the right time and in the right places to match growing demand.

Action is needed to bring our electric grid into the 21st century. That begins with production of large quantities of electricity around the clock, safely and reliably. As the risky bet on low-cost natural gas has demonstrated, electricity is too important to our quality of life to do nothing.

See the article here.