The fact that the rapid growth of cheap natural gas has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than all of the environmental initiatives combined may give climate critics a reason to embrace reality.
A story in Friday’s Statesman reported that greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are the main cause of rapid climate change have dropped to the lowest level in 20 years. The major reason is that utilities are replacing coal-powered electricity with natural gas.
In Idaho Power’s case, it scrapped a new coal plant in 2006 for natural gas, eventually building the new Langley Gulch gas plant near New Plymouth. That decision was driven in part because capital for new coal plants had dried up due to expectations that new regulations would force cuts in carbon emissions.
But nationwide, new fracking technology has opened up vast new natural gas supplies, dropping the price so low that gas is competitive with coal in some areas. Fracking — injecting fluids into the ground to extract the gas — has prompted fears of groundwater contamination and opposition from many of the same people urging cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions.
Here in Idaho, the Snake River Alliance just released its “Lose The Coal” report urging Idaho Power to phase out the Wyoming and Nevada coal plants that make up 50 percent of its power generation.
Its report says Idaho Power could replace its aging coal plants with energy-efficiency measures. Idaho Power owns a part of coal plants that generate about 1,500 megawatts of power, almost half of which the alliance says it can be replaced easily by energy efficiency. It wants the rest to come from renewable energy like solar, biofuels, wind and geothermal.
But the Alliance’s Ken Miller acknowledged that natural gas, which generates about half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, also would work. The Alliance is not opposed to natural gas like it is to coal, but it’s not suggesting Idaho Power replace coal with gas — in part because gas prices could eventually rise again.
Idaho Power is doing its own analysis of coal and will talk to us after the report is done. I expect the company will be wary of giving up a cheap power source until those plants are fully depreciated.
But its executives may not be as quick to upgrade those coal plants to extend their life with cheap gas as an alternative. IdaCorp CEO LaMont Keen told me a couple of years ago that he was an “agnostic” on climate change, but not ignoring it. Since Keen was not a denier, he has a relatively easy route to becoming a believer.
That is not the case for many conservative politicians who bought into the heavily funded climate-change skepticism campaign. What are they going to say? “We were wrong and Al Gore is right?”
The new fact that the free market is doing more to lower emissions in the United States than arcane new regulations gives these folks the chance to say: “OK, maybe we were wrong. But so were those greenies!”
Rocky Barker: 377-6484