Solar power generates electricity approximately 25-30% of the time, while onshore and offshore wind produce power up to 35% and 55% of the time, respectively. Battery storage is necessary to store energy that can be dispatched when renewables are not generating power, though they can’t affordably or technologically be deployed on a mass scale necessary to meet our nation’s complex energy needs. Even the best batteries only provide up to 8 hours of backup electricity.
Natural gas generated electricity is reliable, clean, and flexible – able to be dispatched at scale in minutes to address power shortages, regardless of the weather.
Without natural gas – this foundational role is played by other carbon-intense sources of energy, like coal and oil. In the worst cases, it means blackouts – most likely during periods of peak demand like a heat wave or extended cold.
California’s recent struggles highlight the challenges states face when working to end natural gas use in favor of renewable-only power grids, which account for about a third of the state’s power generation. During the 2020 heat wave, demand for energy needed to power air conditioners peaked just as the evening approached and solar power began declining – resulting in emergency blackouts – sometimes for days and putting public safety at risk.
In 2021, severe drought left California’s carbon-free hydro power operating at low levels – in some cases knocking them offline – and forcing the Governor to dispatch multiple emergency natural gas plants to avoid dangerous blackouts in the hottest days of summer.
The natural gas network provides an extremely high level of reliability and resiliency for customers because of the physical properties of the system. Unlike electric infrastructure which is much more vulnerable to outages from frequent weather-related events – from storms that can knock out power for long periods of time, to inconsistent availability of wind and sun – the natural gas infrastructure system remains primarily underground with low-risk for outages. The redundancy and interconnectedness of the grid provides essential resiliency to protect families and businesses, particularly when it is needed most.
In New England during the 2018 winter, a two-week Arctic cold snap exposed the real-world consequences of anti-natural gas policies, resulting in higher costs, higher carbon emissions, and greater risk to our energy security.
Massachusetts power companies, for example, burned 2 million barrels of oil over 15 days to keep the lights on, because low-cost natural gas was unavailable due to rising costs from explosive customer demand. Environmental regulators called it a “disaster” that could have been avoided if more natural gas was available. Worse, the state needed Russian imports of liquefied natural gas sourced from the Arctic to keep the heat running in Boston homes, far more damaging to the environment.