Natural gas is a clean and affordable fuel used by millions of Americans every day to cook, heat water, and provide warm homes in the winter. We appreciate its benefits, even if we don’t think about them very often.
Just because most of us may not think about natural gas, however, doesn’t mean that the climate warriors do likewise. They think about it constantly. That includes New Mexico’s senior U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D.), who recently wrote in the New York Times that “working to electrify our vehicles, homes and businesses is a critical part of achieving economy wide net-zero emissions.”
Unfortunately, in Heinrich’s parlance, “electrification” does not mean bringing much-needed electricity to impoverished corners of our country, including the Navajo Reservation right here in New Mexico. No, the legislation he’s pushing in Congress — and the funding he’s advocating in the infrastructure bill, specifically — do nothing of the sort. By “electrification,” the senator means that he’d like federal, state, and local governments to phase out or completely ban your natural-gas stove, oven, and furnace, thus requiring you to use electric heat and stoves.
While it may seem “fringe” to many, this is a policy that could be coming to a city near you sometime soon. According to the Sierra Club, Sacramento recently became the 46th U.S. city to begin “phasing out natural gas in new buildings.” That Wall Street Journal adds, too, that “Seattle, Denver and New York have all either enacted or proposed measures to ban or discourage the use of the fossil fuel in new homes and buildings.”
Just a decade or so ago the Sierra Club and other environmental groups supported natural gas as a cleaner burning alternative to coal. Now, Senator Heinrich — counter to the economic interests of the state he represents, and against the expressed preferences of consumers who use such appliances — is pushing to eliminate natural gas in homes and businesses.
The push for a natural-gas ban is premised on the idea that we should replace fossil fuels with wind and solar technologies that put us on a path to “net-zero emissions.” Of course, if the goal is to truly “electrify” our national economy we’re not just talking about replacing all existing electricity generation. You’ll need a lot of new electricity for all those new appliances, too. Indeed, experts say “electrification” would increase U.S. electricity consumption by 40 percent.
Naturally, “electrification” will not be done using traditional electricity sources. Heinrich and his environmentalist allies believe that if they push hard enough, 100 percent of current and additional electricity can be generated by wind and solar power. Considering that according to the Energy Information Administration not much more than 10 percent of current electricity production comes from wind, solar, and geothermal combined, this is going to be an incredibly expensive and challenging proposition.
Of course wind and solar will require vast tracts of land — not to mention batteries — to ensure new and reliable transmission lines. Ratepayers and taxpayers will be the ones paying for all that new generation and redundancy.
Considering that reliability and demand issues are already facing the Western United States this summer, electrification will likely mean putting all your energy eggs in one very unstable “basket.” As we witnessed in Texas this past winter, where people had few good options for heating their homes, the reliability of natural gas — or at least diversification of energy sources in an emergency — can be a lifesaver.
Finally, there is the expressed consumer preference for natural gas, which for some reason is casually (or perhaps not so casually) ignored. You will have to search far and wide to find an electric stove in your favorite restaurant. (Yes, they’re not just talking about “electrifying” homes, but businesses as well.) That’s because natural gas is superior to electricity for cooking — both in terms of food quality and price. Banning natural gas in restaurants means you would be waiting longer for your favorite meal and paying more for it.
We all want clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Natural gas provides all three. On his way out of office, President Obama touted natural gas’s role in reducing U.S. CO2 emissions. He wrote in Science that “GHG mitigation need not conflict with economic growth. Rather, it can boost efficiency, productivity, and innovation.”
Obama was correct. While the U.S. has been steadily reducing CO2 emissions for over a decade, China now emits more CO2 than all the developed world combined (including the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, and Australia). Senator Heinrich’s forced march to the electrification of the U.S. — at the same time as phasing out natural-gas appliances — will be costly and won’t achieve the environmental gains he seeks because of the inherent lack of energy density provided by so-called renewables. It will also increase energy insecurity, creating a frailty that will cost more than just money.