Chris Hogan Cool the Planet With Natural Gas

Wayne Leonard, chairman and CEO of AGA member company Entergy Corp., drafted this opinion which is running in today’s Wall Street Journal.  Highlighting the many benefits of using natural gas for power generation, Mr. Leonard presents an interesting argument – perhaps part of a clean energy future lies in today’s smarter use of fossil fuels, like abundant, domestic natural gas.

Here’s a link to the article and the text from his letter appears below.

What if the near-term solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions actually began with the increased use of fossil fuels?

This is a real possibility because the generation of electricity from natural gas results in much lower emissions of carbon dioxide than from coal or oil. And in recent years we’ve unlocked vast new supplies of natural gas. Leading industry experts now believe North America has more than 3,000 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves—enough to meet the current rate of consumption for more than 100 years.

These reserves can powerfully contribute to our domestic energy security while making a significant, near-term reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

With cap and trade clearly off the table for now, lawmakers are considering new approaches to put America on a path to a cleaner energy future. One idea gaining momentum is Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R., S.C.) proposal to require utilities to generate a targeted share of their electricity by renewables such as wind and solar power, nuclear energy and coal technologies that capture and sequester greenhouse gasses. Mr. Graham’s “Clean Energy Standard” is a good starting point for enacting a comprehensive energy policy next year, but it should be expanded to include the substitution of natural gas for coal.

There are already more than 300 natural gas-fired electricity plants in the U.S., but according to a Congressional Research Service Report (CRS) of January 2010, we are only making use of 40% of their overall capacity of 171,000 megawatts. By substituting this unused gas-fired capacity for an equivalent amount of coal-based generation the CRS report noted we could almost immediately reduce CO2 emissions in the U.S. electricity sector by more than 10%, or more than 240 million tonnes.

Ultimately, we’ll have to retrofit conventional coal plants with new technology to capture and sequester carbon if we are to achieve more substantial reductions in global CO2 emissions. But while we work to develop an economically viable carbon retrofit technology, gas-fired generation offers the country a cost-effective approach to begin reductions of emissions.

Mandating the use of renewables, on the other hand, is much less attractive: Despite their allure, they displace only a modest amount of CO2 at a very high price. According to an analysis by Northbridge Group consultants, mandating that 20% of every utility’s generation portfolio come from renewables—a proposal that’s currently before the Senate—would cost $225 more per household each year than achieving the same CO2 reduction by increasing the use of existing natural gas-powered generators.

A clean energy standard that includes natural gas focuses on what’s realistically available in the here-and-now. It provides real opportunities to reduce carbon emissions right away while buying us time to develop and hone other electricity-generating sources that don’t rely on fossil fuels. Most importantly, it would not require us to shut down the plants that rely on our most abundant fossil fuel, coal.

No one doubts that if we are to overcome the challenge of climate change, we will have to expand the use of renewable energy. But that doesn’t mean rejecting the most effective alternatives available today. Natural gas stands out among these alternatives.

Mr. Graham’s clean energy standard has given us a workable starting point. By expanding his proposal, Congress can take an important first step towards the long-term goal of a sustainable planet.

Mr. Leonard is chairman and CEO of Entergy Corp., which produces and distributes electric power.

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