GPSC Commissioner Jason Shaw: Clean Energy Future Depends on Natural Gas

Jason Shaw

Thursday, February 9th, 2023

With questionable science and lacking a risk-benefit analysis, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced and then recently withdrew a consideration to ban natural gas stoves. Natural gas is not the enemy of the clean energy transition that is underway – just the opposite. It is an indispensable ally we must rely upon if we wish to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in our lifetime.

Misguided efforts to ban the use of natural gas, defund the infrastructure that transports it and block permits for new interstate pipelines will have real life consequences in just a few years as supplies become constrained in many states, including Georgia. Economic development will not only suffer, but consumers who can least afford it will be left with higher cost alternatives.

America should be learning from Europe’s mistakes, not repeating them. European countries hastily moved away from domestic coal and nuclear baseload generation in favor of still-unreliable renewable sourced energy, which left them vulnerable and reliant on energy imports. The Russia-Ukraine war exacerbated the problem as Russia cut off natural gas supplies, which were already unpredictable, hoping to reverse economic sanctions. Now, amid the crisis, some European countries are scrambling to revive coal plants, return to investments in nuclear power and lift moratoriums on natural gas retrieval. 

Domestic energy security is achieved in two ways: first, by recognizing America has enough natural gas reserves to affordably meet our needs for about 100 years; and second, by ensuring favorable regulations for production and transportation. 

What is needed is an “all of the above” strategy, not an “either/or” mentality. The expansion and stability of natural gas in the power sector has shored up the power grid and facilitated renewable energy development. Georgia is now recognized as 7th in the nation for installed solar by the Solar Energy Industries Association. This accomplishment came without subsidies and without compromising the grid, proving that a market-based approach to renewable energy works.

Realistically, renewable energy technology cannot yet reliably or affordably replace the peak day energy demand served by natural gas. Currently 192 million customers in our country rely on natural gas for heating, cooking and for industrial processes. All electricity customers rely on natural gas generation for some portion of their power. Nearly 40 percent of utility-scale electricity generation is produced by natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Moving away from this level of baseload generation in favor of still-intermittent renewables compromises the electric grid and reliability, as we have seen in Europe and in some U.S. states.

Further, a departure from natural gas-sourced energy would come at substantial cost to consumers. According to the American Gas Association, families choosing to live in a home with both electricity and natural gas on average save over $1,000 per year. Over the past 10 years, cumulative savings reach over $140 billion for families that use natural gas. Businesses also saved half a trillion dollars using natural gas over other energy sources during this period. Looking ahead through 2050, natural gas is projected to be one-half to one-third of the price of other fuels, including electricity.

Affordable natural gas means we can complete the energy transition in a just and all-accessible manner while focusing on emissions. The increased use of natural gas has led to a 21% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector since 1990, according to the EPA. Emissions are further reduced as we upgrade the delivery infrastructure. Over the past 30 years, Atlanta Gas Light reports it has reduced emissions by more than 60 percent even while expanding its delivery system by 20 percent.

Methane emissions are down to less than 0.2 percent as pipeline systems have been upgraded – meaning more than 99.8 percent of the natural gas that enters the distribution system is delivered to customers. Natural gas utilities are addressing the remaining emissions through continued modernization and utilizing more next-generation gas sources, like renewable natural gas and hydrogen.

We all want clean energy, but clean without affordability is not realistic. Likewise, clean without reliability – especially during bitterly cold winters – is not a solution. Long-term energy policy cannot sway with ever-changing popular sentiment. Natural gas is the stable energy source that allows renewable energy resources to be scaled cleanly, reliably and affordably. Solutions to further this net-zero transition must be practical and preserve energy security while we continue to provide affordable access to energy for all customers.