By Ted Skerpon
The continued assault on fossil-fuel power generation by environmental groups and their “Beyond Coal” campaign is heading on a dangerous and irreversible economic course. Along the pathway there could even be a contribution to greater CO2 emissions.
On April 10, a U.S. Senate Energy Committee hearing was conducted on the topic: “Keeping the Lights On – Are we doing enough to ensure the reliability and security of the U.S. electric grid?” We heard accounts of how close many areas came to losing power during the harsh winter. An eye-opener was that many coal plants – used sparingly as natural gas prices plummeted – were called on due to inadequate gas infrastructure to both make electricity and heat homes. The lights would have gone out without those plants – yet 89 percent of these plants will be retired due to the stringent new EPA standards mandatory by the spring of 2015. That’s more than 50,000 megawatts of power being removed from the grid. Day-to-day supply will be a challenge; times of peak demand – such as life-threatening cold or extreme heat – is of major concern.
The low price and abundance of natural gas was tested through the cold snap, and our “this is not a drill” winter revealed grossly inadequate pipelines and a need for greater storage. Gas cannot be stored at a power plant like a coal reserve or fuel rods at a nuclear plant. It will take years for infrastructure to respond to the weaknesses in natural gas delivery and storage that were exposed this winter.
A final thought on natural gas and CO2 emissions – the low cost of natural gas has even placed market pressure on otherwise viable nuclear power generators and their zero greenhouse gas emissions, with retirements of some already under way. This critical base load generation will likely be replaced by natural gas, and while that means lower CO2 emissions than coal, it will be a net increase in overall emissions compared to nuclear power. Renewables can be part of the mix, but cost and reliability are problems.
Western New York has three power plants that have already made investments of hundreds of millions of dollars in emission controls, and will be among the few that will be compliant with new EPA standards. Local plants have operated with environmental responsibility that separates them from the pack, and at last count, generated a total economic impact of $460 million.
With the retirement of major power generators just around the corner, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo fast-tracking efforts to upgrade transmission lines to move power more efficiently, these economic engines should be supported, not under assault. Blind pursuit of CO2 reductions while the use of coal proliferates in other nations is irresponsible and puts our economy in the crossfire.
Ted Skerpon is president and business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97.