Most of us in Calhoun County would like to see more jobs for our pipeliners and an end to gas well shut-ins. This will only happen if we stop the “coal by wire” industry from hijacking the natural gas based future of electrical power in our country.
The extraction and selling of natural gas has been a major economic activity in Calhoun County for almost a hundred years. I don’t believe that there is a single resident of Calhoun County whose life is not connected in some way with the natural gas industry. In addition to producing a lot of natural gas, Calhoun County is home to some of the best gas pipeline construction workers in the world.
What does Calhoun County’s leading industry have to do with the PATH power line? Everything.
Natural gas is the fuel that is replacing coal as the leading fuel used in the production of electricity. Natural gas produces no sulfur emissions when burned and releases only 1/3 the amount of carbon dioxide that coal does. Natural gas now produces more than 20% of the electricity in the US. Natural gas now produces more power than nuclear power plants.
Coal is a bulky fuel that must be moved by train, barge and truck from where it is mined to where it is burned. Natural gas flows readily through pipelines, with the help of compressors and pumping stations, from the wellhead to the power plant. Once in the power plant, gas can be controlled and transported using computerized equipment with no special handling.
Because natural gas releases few pollutants when burned and requires relatively little handling at the power plant itself, gas-fired plants can be built much smaller and closer to where electricity is needed by consumers. These plants are being built in increasing numbers all over the US.
Many people like to believe that wind and solar power will replace coal as a source of electrical power in the US. This will never be the case in the next century. Even the most optimistic experts on wind and solar estimate that these power sources will never make up more than 10% of total generating capacity. The one alternative fuel that can replace coal on a large scale for base load electrical power is natural gas.
Coal is expensive to transport, so the coal industry has joined very closely with the big electrical utilities to create a huge electrical power infrastructure. Our current electrical grid consists of large, highly polluting coal fired generating plants built far from population centers from which electricity is shipped to cities by huge power lines. Many electrical power experts call this system “coal by wire.” Extra high voltage lines like PATH are an essential part of this coal based system. By the way, the coal by wire system wastes 7% to 9% of all electricity just in the friction of electrical current passing through the power lines over long distances.
A natural gas based electrical system looks very different. It consists of more and smaller power plants much closer to where consumers live. Power lines are smaller and shorter. Natural gas pipelines, almost always underground, eliminate the need for huge, above ground power lines.
Coal has one advantage over natural gas: it can be easily stored and stockpiled. There is relatively little storage capacity in the US for natural gas. Right now, natural gas is used primarily for heating. In the summer time, when demand for natural gas drops, local wells here in Calhoun County are often “shut in” and local producers cannot sell gas at all in summer months. If natural gas were the main source of electricity in the US, summer time demand for gas would rise because of increased electrical demand for air conditioning.
Because PATH will provide “cheap” coal-fired electricity to the east coast, PATH is part of a process that will cut off all of natural gas’s potential to solve many of the environmental, efficiency and reliability problems that face the electrical power industry in the US.
PATH is a loaded gun aimed straight at the head of Calhoun County’s leading industry. Natural gas is the future of electrical generation. PATH and coal represent its past. Coal will still be a major source of electrical power in the future, but we should be doing everything we can to support the shift to natural gas as the generating fuel of the future.
PATH is the problem, not the solution.