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Natural gas stakeholders join renewable energy fans in striking preemptive blows against the Energy Department's much anticipated grid reliability study.

Grid

New US Energy Dept. Grid Study Even Gives Oil & Gas The Heebie-Jeebies

Natural gas stakeholders join renewable energy fans in striking preemptive blows against the Energy Department’s much anticipated grid reliability study.

Renewable energy stakeholders are already up in arms over a controversial new grid reliability study ordered up by US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and now the oil and gas industry is playing the negatory card, too. Earlier this week the American Petroleum Institute’s chief economist questioned the grid study’s purported focus on the benefits of coal-fired baseload power plants and exhorted the Energy Department to put the brakes on the study, which is expected to be completed any minute now.

What gives?

Energy Dept. Grid Study: Oil And Gas Vs. Coal And Nukes

API’s case of nerves over the forthcoming grid study has a simple explanation: API has the interests of its membership at heart, and drillers have a tremendous amount of interest in pushing coal and nuclear energy out of the power generation field in favor of natural gas.

The shale gas boom has put a world of hurt on some local communities but it has resulted in low prices. The industry consensus is that so far, natural gas is the driving force behind coal power plant closures.

Earlier this week API released a study of its own demonstrating that natural gas is a better match for today’s flexible power demands than either coal or nuclear energy.

Our friends over at the Houston Chronicle report that API chief economist Erica Bowman questioned the emphasis on baseload that underpins the Energy Department’s grid study. From API’s perspective, natural gas power plants promote a more nimble and reliable grid:

“Baseload is kind of a historical term. It’s not really relevant to how electricity is produced today…What you need is dispatchability… and [coal and nuclear] are far slower when you compare them to a lot of the technology natural gas plants have.”

Ouch! Compounding problems for coal is the renewed focus on power plant emissions. President Trump drew some unwanted attention to coal power plants when he withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change earlier this month, and a new report from the consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates highlights the impact that coal-sourced electricity has on pollutants including sulfur dioxide and mercury as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

As for nuclear energy, so far atom power has not been a particular area of interest for President Trump.

Earlier this week during a televised press conference, Secretary Perry did make the case for keeping up with the rest of the world on nuclear technology, but on closer inspection his emphasis was more focused on keeping the nation’s R&D resources up to snuff rather than any compelling need to increase the nation’s nuclear generating capacity.

So, it will be interesting to see how that new Energy Department grid study turns out. For those of you new to the topic, Perry ordered the study earlier this year. It has been widely criticized prior to release, based on its questionable authorship, scanty 60 day deadline, failure to involve any experienced grid stakeholders, and a memo from Perry that front-loaded the study in favor of coal.

The initial deadline is looming at the end of June and Perry has already pushed the release date back a week or so.

Meanwhile, Natural Gas…

For all the cheerleading over natural gas from API, a number of issues are looming ahead.

The impacts of fracking are getting fresh attention in Illinois this week, as local activists respond to a permit application that would bring the first such drilling operation to the state.

Oklahoma is also in the news this week. The underground disposal of wastewater from both fracking and conventional drilling in that state has been linked to swarms of earthquakes. State officials put emergency measures in gear that have abated the problem somewhat, but the result is that the oil and gas industry has to find new — and potentially more expensive — ways to dispose of its wastewater.

Meanwhile over in upstate New York, local stakeholders have raised new concerns about the disposal of construction debris from Pennsylvania fracking operations.

Researchers have found evidence linking asthma and premature birth risks to fracking operations, and the issues of local impacts from fracking operations and wastewater transportation are still very much alive, as is the issue of fugitive greenhouse gas emissions from storage sites and other infrastructure, including drilling operations.

As articulated by Perry, the new Trump “energy dominance” theme relies heavily on increasing exports of natural gas. That could open a whole new can of political worms for the Trump Administration.

If the export market starts to put upward pressure on domestic gas prices, consumers in the commercial and manufacturing sectors will experience a bottom line impact and they will not be happy about it.

In other words, you’ve got a direct conflict between Trump’s push for gas exports and his purported goal of bringing factory jobs back to the US.

For that matter, so far Perry has had practically nothing to say about bringing coal jobs back, at least not for coal mining communities.

At this week’s press conference Perry intimated that there could be some jobs afoot in the carbon capture field, but that’s not the same as bringing jobs back to local coal fields.

For that matter, check out the Energy Department seal featured prominently on the agency’s home page. If you can find any symbol representing the coal mining industry drop us a note in the comment thread.

Follow me on Twitter.

Image (screenshot): US Department of Energy.

 
 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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