Natural Gas and Renewables Should Co-exist

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) recently announced his plan to achieve 100% “clean energy” for the state by 2050. The almost 300-page plan aims at decarbonizing the state’s energy system by midcentury, but its strategies have raised concerns about both the costs and effectiveness of the proposal. One such strategy is phasing down natural gas usage across the state. This proposal would increase costs for consumers and eliminate a critical source of energy many New Jerseyans rely on. Currently, about 75% of New Jersey households rely on natural gas as their primary heating fuels. A long-term, pragmatic solution should include both natural gas and ‘clean electricity’ – co-existing to maintain our energy security and keep costs affordable for all Americans.

Murphy’s plan specifically asks utilities to “assess existing pipeline capacity and plan for a gradual reduction in system use,” and calls on the state to revisit policies that ‘bolster the natural gas industry.’” For alternate sources of energy, the plan suggests a mass build-out of offshore wind turbine and solar panels. However, this has been met with skepticism across the state’s energy sphere, the largest concern being the increase in cost to taxpayers.

In a recent NJ Spotlight op-ed, Rutgers professor Frank Felder, who directs the university’s Center for Energy, Economic and Environmental Policy, expressed his concern regarding the Governor’s proposal:

The transition to a clean energy future will be expensive and regressive. Replacing fossil fuels with clean energy requires a dramatic change in the economy. Every sector of New Jersey’s economy depends extensively on fossil fuels for heating, transportation, and electricity. Regardless of how the state pursues a clean energy economy, direct energy costs will rise even with declining costs of clean energy. These additional costs will be paid for by residents either directly or indirectly from the increase in costs passed along to them by businesses, nonprofit organizations, and local and state governments.

Separately, Erick Ford, executive director of the New Jersey Energy Coalition, applauded the plan’s ambitions, but he expressed apprehension about cutting natural gas, saying:

“While I haven’t read the whole document yet, I do understand there’s a desire to get that 100% clean energy, so that would mean things like natural gas may not be in the long-term future,” he said during an interview yesterday on the sidelines of a grid resilience conference in San Antonio. “I’m cautious on it, because natural gas is a low-cost energy fuel.”

As both states and the federal government make plans to integrate renewable energy sources into the grid, they should keep in mind the significant benefits natural gas offers. In addition to its low-cost and affordability, it burns cleaner than other traditional energy sources like coal and emits lower levels of emissions such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides.

Furthermore, natural gas produces less greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels and it does not produce ash or particulates that lead to health problems. No feasible plan should call for the elimination of natural gas. Future energy plans should embrace natural gas and renewables to work together to provide reliable energy for Americans while reducing emissions and costs.

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