Beth Little: Renewables, not natural gas, offer clean prosperity

By By Beth Little

There is a big reason, besides the environmental damage during construction and the massive intrusion on private property, that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline should not be built.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel. Investing $5 billion in major infrastructure for burning more fossil fuel is not the direction we should be going.

There is already an extensive network of gas pipelines. Dominion says that there are only three compressor stations planned for the ACP. But with the passage of time, when the capacity of the pipeline needs to be increased, it will be done by adding compressor stations.

It is true that burning coal produces more carbon dioxide than burning natural gas, but it is also true that methane (natural gas) is over 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and the emissions from natural gas facilities, including pipeline leaks, means that the substitution of gas for coal as an energy source results in increased rather than decreased global warming for many decades, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Instead we should be pursuing energy efficiency and renewables.

Besides the cost of solar energy coming down, there are more and more programs to help people go solar with energy credits, loans and community projects. One example proving that there must be an advantage to solar is that David W. Mohler, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Duke Energy, the primary partner with Dominion in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, has his North Carolina home equipped with solar panels and a storage battery. Duke Energy’s commercial power and international businesses operate diverse power generation assets in North America and Latin America, including a growing renewable energy portfolio.

The great thing about energy efficiency is that it saves money. I am completely baffled by people who get angry about using new light bulbs. My conservative father would roll over in his grave if he heard that I was refusing to save money on light bulbs because I didn’t want to change my lifestyle.

We have learned through decades of experience, that the addition of insulation to limit heat loss allows us to be just as comfortable and get the same thing done without using more electricity. Investment in better building construction then becomes another electricity resource, just like electricity generation. Energy efficiency investments produce business and residential improvement and eliminate the need for more electrical generation from any source, renewable or fossil fuel. Countless studies have demonstrated that energy efficiency program investments by utilities yield higher returns than do investments in new power plants.

Even with all the subsidies, tax credits, and environmental exemptions for fossil fuels, renewables and energy efficiency are growing exponentially and creating more jobs — healthy jobs. Solar power made up over half of new generating capacity in the second quarter of 2014. According to the Georgetown Climate Center, 10 states have reduced their carbon emissions by at least 30 percent since 2005 with no decline in economic activity.

There are lots more examples showing that by employing energy efficiency and switching to renewables, we can lower emissions, create jobs and save money — a win, win, win.

And we don’t have to tear up the mountains in the national forest to do it.

Beth Little, of Hillsboro, is a member of the West Virginia Sierra Club’s Energy Committee and Marcellus Campaign.

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