By FORMER SENATORS MARY LANDRIEU (D-LA) AND HEIDI HEITKAMP (D-ND)
02/24/2022 09:00 AM EST
It is time for an honest conversation about energy. Not a conversation fueled by partisan rhetoric or illusions or special interests. But one that begins with a reality check: We cannot and will not solve the climate crisis with renewable sources alone — natural gas must also be part of the solution.
Natural gas is accelerating America’s and the world’s transition to a clean-energy future, not jeopardizing it.
As carbon emissions in the U.S. reach their lowest level in 27 years, elected officials from both sides of the aisle should not forget the critical role natural gas and its infrastructure must play in further lowering these levels. Nearly two-thirds of that progress came from switching away from coal-fired electric plants to cleaner natural gas. This is all happening alongside the exciting growth of carbon-free renewable energy resources, which surpassed coal in U.S. electricity production for the first time in 2020.
Working together, natural gas and renewables can hasten our reduction of emissions while keeping energy affordable and reliable. This is not political conjecture or industry rhetoric. A Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy report found “while it may seem counterintuitive, investing more in the domestic natural gas pipeline network could help the U.S. reach net-zero emission goals more quickly and cheaply.”
Further, a December 2020 General Electric report utilizing data from the International Energy Agency found that carbon emissions are reduced up to 40 percent more when renewables and natural gas work together, rather than renewables working on their own.
A Progressive Policy Institute report also found natural gas will help to manage the risk of a rapid expansion of renewables with regard to price and reliability — keeping the lights on by dispatching within minutes when renewables can’t keep up.
If we embrace the opportunity natural gas provides, the U.S. and the world can reach climate goals faster, invigorate the economy and protect our allies from bad actors who use fuel as a weapon.
President Joe Biden recently said that natural gas can be a valuable geopolitical asset, noting it could be used to “take the burden off of European countries that are now totally dependent on Russia.”
The president also cited Americans’ concerns about fuel costs. One in three U.S. households struggles to pay its current energy bills, getting by instead by forgoing basic needs and even keeping homes at unsafe temperatures.
Natural gas fuels 40 percent of our electric grid and is the most affordable energy source. Additionally, homes with natural gas on average save over $900 per year compared to all-electric homes, while the federal Energy Information Administration found households using natural gas to heat their homes will save more than double those that heat via electricity.
Political rhetoric is holding back the capital necessary to invest in and secure the future. The more people understand how natural gas is distinct from other fossil fuels, it becomes clear the essential role natural gas plays in cleaner air, the growth of renewable energy sources and the fight against climate change.
To reach our carbon-free goals, we need a demand signal from leaders and policymakers that natural gas will be a part of our future — not just a bridge.
The nation’s existing 2.5 million-mile natural gas delivery network can serve as a backbone and better prepare us to store and deliver other fuels of the future, such as low- or zero-carbon hydrogen and renewable natural gas.
Natural gas also provides reliability and resiliency. As a partner with renewable sources, natural gas can quickly compensate for fluctuations in wind and solar supplies. Because solar and wind only work part of the time, other energy sources are needed to maintain a reliable power grid and respond immediately to sudden spikes in demand.
Innovative technologies are making natural gas an even more viable and sensible choice at home and abroad. Carbon-capture and storage technologies being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy can capture at least 95 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. The research and development of these technologies are a key part of the Biden administration’s strategy to reach its goals of a 100 percent clean electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Now more than ever, we must come together on a realistic path to create a clean energy future for all Americans. Let’s achieve our climate goals, faster.
This isn’t about lowering our clean-energy standards. It is about finding a realistic path to achieve them.
Mary Landrieu is a former U.S. Senator from Louisiana. During her 18 years in the Senate, she chaired the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee and was the first woman Democrat to serve on the Armed Services Committee. Heidi Heitkamp served as the first female U.S. senator from North Dakota. She also served as attorney general and tax commissioner of North Dakota. She is the founder of the One Country Project, focused on addressing the concerns and needs of rural America. Landrieu and Heitkamp serve on the Leadership Council of Natural Allies for a Clean Energy Future.
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