Opinion Piece Warns "Gas Is Greener"

Desert Tortoise. Unless we use more natural gas fired turbines, this poor creature may be driven to extinction by greenies favoring solar power. Image credit:Wikipedia

The Carbon Gang is using familiar tactics to protect the fossil fuel-produced electricity market: warning investors and policy makers away from wind and solar power projects. A good example just appeared in the New York Times. As is typical, this one relies on the false choice, on cherry picked facts, and myopic 'back of the envelope' calculation. The Manhattan Institute's The Gas Is Greener piece, for example, infers that natural gas is a superior form of energy for producing electricity because it takes 'lots of land to produce wind and solar power.' How about a back of the envelope for land consumption associated with full life cycle of natural gas extraction, refining, distribution, and use? Not there.My favorite part in "Gas Is Greener" is the attack from the left, citing the fact that a large concentrated solar thermal project slated for the Mohave Desert was halted "out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act." The Manhattan Institute has, of course, long treasured the ESA. Via Sourcewatch:

The Manhattan Institute (MI) is a right-wing 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey, who later became President Ronald Reagan's CIA director.[1]

The Manhattan Institute is "focused on promoting free-market principles whose mission is to 'develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.'"[2]

"The Manhattan Institute concerns itself with such things as 'welfare reform' (dismantling social programs), 'faith-based initiatives' (blurring the distinction between church and state), and 'education reform' (destroying public education)," Kurt Nimmo wrote October 10, 2002, in CounterPunch.[3]

Using 'simple math' the writer argues there's not enough available desert space in California to host the centralized solar power facilities needed to meet California's latest renewable energy mandate (the one-third goal). That the writer overlooked the potential for distributed solar photovoltaic power to help meet the goal is no surprise. But, I was surprised he forgot to mention the very real drawback of high water consumption associated with centralized solar thermal power.

Wind is inferior to gas because of "the infrasound, which is inaudible to most humans but potentially harmful." Infrasound could be potentially harmful? Climate change and exhaust gas might have some drawbacks too, wouldn't ya say?

A good opinion piece would frame the energy debate by citing principal benefits as well any major drawbacks or uncertainties over increased reliance on renewable energy and consider improvements which could change things, on balance, for the short and for the long term. Not done in this one.

The False Choice.
Of course we (California especially) will need more natural gas-fired electricity to meet future demand - but not to the exclusion of wind and solar power.

There's a couple of lines in this piece which are nearly Sara Palin-ready. Read the whole thing for yourself if that bee is in your bonnet.

ExxonMobil is listed in several places as contributor to the Manhattan Institute. ExxonMobil also has a dog in the US natural gas hunt, using fracking technologies, which I think is a fine thing, in terms of helping transition us (and California in particular) to a less carbon-intensive future. What we don't need is a fight over prospective market share that slows the transition. There's plenty of demand growth.

Update: clash of corporate interests.
Think about this issue from a top-level total industrial supply chain point of view.

General Electric recently announced a new highly efficient gas-fired turbine product line specifically designed to ramp up power output extra fast: to be more compatible with wind and solar power sources (balancing variability). GE also makes wind turbines. GE therefore has an interest in low cost natural gas being available to their customers and an interest in wind power and even solar power expansion. Increased renewable power drives demand for their turbine.

Conversely, ExxonMobil's only interest is in selling natural gas. They will sell more natural gas with less renewable energy generation and the market stays larger if less efficient turbines are used.

So...which company is most pleased with the Manhattan Institute opinion piece?

Tags: Fracking

Best of TreeHugger