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Column Extols Virtues of Natural Gas for Generating Electricity

Jim Weeks, Executive Director of the Michigan Municipal Electric Association, penned one of the best editorials on energy in recent memory in last week’s Lansing State Journal.

Click here to read the full article.

Weeks’s main assertion is that a clean energy portfolio should be diverse, which includes substantial investment in natural gas.  That’s because he is most concerned with reliability as Michigan continues to rebuild its economy. 

“When the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine,” Weeks reminds us, “what will then power our businesses, our homes, and our cities in the future?”

Natural Gas Making a Difference

While natural gas isn’t renewable, it is widely acknowledged to be much cleaner-burning than the coal it is steadily replacing.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains: “Compared to the average air emissions from coal-fired generation, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one percent as much sulfur oxides at the power plant.”

Moreover, the potential supply of natural gas has grown exponentially in recent years thanks to new production technology, and that increased supply has resulted in consumer savings.

As examples, Weeks mentions some of the new natural gas cogeneration plants built recently, including the remarkable REO Town plant.  But he only scratches the surface; check out our blog post from this summer reviewing another natural gas-fired plant being built over the next few years.

Natural Gas and Renewables Go Hand-in-Hand

Clearly, no one should take Mr. Weeks’s enthusiasm for natural gas as a call to abandon renewable energy.  In fact, the message we take away from his article is that natural gas is the complementary resource that will be most important for helping develop and expand renewable resources.

As Weeks notes, wind and solar energy are many years away from being able to completely meet Michigan’s growing energy demand.  But combining these emerging resources with natural gas provides Michigan with the best of all worlds:  We can use increasingly cleaner energy while maintaining reliability and moving toward sustainability. 

Michigan’s 2008 energy policy strikes a reasonable balance of those priorities.  It sets goals for utilities to meet with respect to the percentage of their electricity generated by renewables.  Our state’s energy companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and are on track to meet the 10 percent renewable energy goal for 2015. This plan of gradual, consistent progress is working and should remain our strategy for transitioning to renewable resources.

As Mr. Weeks concludes:  “[T]he attributes of natural gas generation, and specifically its ability to cycle up and down to follow electric demand on a real-time basis…[have] provided Michigan with the ability to add more intermittent renewable sources to our generation portfolio.”