In February of this year a freak snowstorm hit the state of Texas. Over 100 people died, some of hypothermia and others from carbon monoxide from autos and generators used carelessly for emergency heat. Why? Because electrical utilities failed. Texas has greatly increased its dependence on renewable energy, mainly wind turbines. The storm froze the turbines. The presence of natural gas service in many of these homes became a lifeline. Gas-powered trucks and autos, properly vented, were also lifeboats providing radios, heat, light and a means to recharge cell phones for communication. In emergency situations alternative energy sources will never cease to be important.
The State of California has a plan to begin eliminating natural gas from new construction starting in 2023 and outlaw all oil production by 2045. Some in charge want to convert all energy use to electricity. New housing is now required to have solar panels adequate to offset their energy use and provide circuits for plug-in electric vehicles. Soon the full plug-in will be required.
I have long been a supporter of hybrid gas-electric and natural gas vehicles to improve air quality. Hybrids don’t require that billions of dollars be spent statewide to install charging stations. The supporting infrastructure already exists, the local gas station. Gasoline and diesel are a portable source of embodied energy that can be used responsibly.
As for oil, it produces more than just fuel. Byproducts for road paving, roofing and plastics of all kinds that protect our health and safety will have to be replaced if we stop producing oil. Plant-based alternatives are proposed but can’t possibly be produced in amounts to meet the need if the water to grow those plants and the CO2 on which they thrive is systematically choked off by environmental goals. As our current president says, "C’mon man!" All the utopia-minded Star Trek fans out there know that humans are a carbon-based life form. We exhale CO2. The obsession to limit it might make one think the desire is that we stop breathing.
The push to phase out natural gas is myopic, short-sighted. Natural gas, as an energy source, is superior to electricity for uses that require heat. Water heating, space heating, clothes drying and cooking all benefit from that more efficient source. One stubborn fact about electricity generation is that it loses two-thirds of its energy value through resistance and transmission losses from generating plants to end users. Even if those transmission losses are offset by local generation at individual buildings, it is still too expensive for the average citizen to pay for. Especially if it means onsite battery storage making each building essentially off-grid. Do any of us seriously think the electric utility companies want that?
Since we are talking about utility companies, where is all the additional capacity to replace gas energy in buildings and charge all those electric cars we will be forced into coming from? There is a lot of talk at the federal level about infrastructure, but the electrical grid is rarely mentioned. As it is now, every time there is a wind event, the utility companies start shutting off power to prevent fires. That weakness in the system, along with cyber security and the necessary expansion of the grid capacity all need to be clearly addressed before we abandon the best clean alternative for when the sun don’t show and the wind don’t blow, natural gas.
Tim Stormont is a local architect and lifelong east Bakersfield resident.