The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Those words have been used in books and movies to dramatic effect. But in the world of energy, they take on a similar – though substantially less violent – meaning.
Often, we in the underground infrastructure market are at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency for what are deemed onerous and unnecessary regulations and oversight. Sometimes, particular for many of the major energy companies operating power plants, the use of coal is viewed in-step with natural gas as a necessary and economical packaging of fuel sources for power generation. But modern market dynamics combined with the fact that the coal industry is still a horrible polluter – even in 2012 – deem such viewpoint indefensible.
Today, natural gas is cheap and plentiful – so much so that we have ample domestic supplies for somewhere between and 100 and 200 years at a minimum. Building out a new gas infrastructure piping market continues to keep this market healthy for the foreseeable future.
However, coal has dominated power generation for decades, flaunting environmental rules and continuing to spew deadly toxins into the air. As long as coal was a cheap source, it has been virtually impossible to unseat the coal lobby from controlling power generation. While the gas industry remained largely quiet on the subject, many continued to lump all petrochemical sources as one market, one industry. That perspective is even more erroneous today than ever. Coal is not only the enemy of our lungs, but the enemy of the gas industry as well.
Recently, the coal industry has been in a desperate fight of survival. They’ve defied the odds – and the EPA – for decades. But on Dec. 21, the EPA let the other foot drop on the U.S. coal-generation power plants, announcing another round of regulations that will force them to upgrade or retire many plants that have been out of air quality compliance since 1990. About 40 percent of the 1,400 coal-fired units nationwide still lack modern pollution controls.
Coal lobbyists, in a predictable, apocalyptic diatribe, claim consumers will be forced to pay for a 19 percent rise in electricity prices. But the EPA models tell a different story, claiming the new standards will result in relatively small changes in the average retail price of electricity (approximately 3 percent).
According to a survey by the Associate Press, only about 32 mostly coal-fired power plants in a dozen states will be forced to shut down and an additional 36 might have to close because of new federal air pollution regulations — which is a far cry from the death of the coal industry claimed by their supporters.
Together, those plants — some of the oldest and dirtiest in the country — produce enough electricity for more than 22 million households, the AP survey found. The EPA has estimated that 14.7 gigawatts, enough power for more than 11 million households, will be retired from the power grid in the 2014-15 period when the two new rules take effect. Combined, the rules could do away with more than 8 percent of the coal-fired generation nationwide, the AP found.
Coal still owns 50 percent of the power generation market. Several coal supporters have already said they expect coal to remain the dominant domestic electricity source.
That is why the time is now for the natural gas revolution. The industry needs to use the EPA’s latest rules to springboard a game changing market situation. This could be the historic day that the gas market seizes momentum and helps direct a fundamental shift in public and Congressional thinking.
The gas industry needs to fully separate itself from other fuel sources. It needs to demonstrate that, even though it is a petro carbon fuel, it is clearly superior to anything on the market today. It is plentiful, economical and totally viable as the major fuel source for not only power generation, but for transportation as well.
We are not dirty coal; we are not nuclear with inherent waste disposal and containment issues. Rather, we are natural gas: safe, plentiful, easy to transport and environmentally sound. Alternative fuel sources may develop at some point in the next 50 to 100 years, but until then, natural gas can than meet this country’s energy demands in an economical and environmentally healthy way.
Is this a self-serving position for the gas industry? Absolutely. But that doesn’t make the conclusions any less truthful. Coal is not our friend. But today, the EPA is.