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Maintaining an electric grid we can all count on

This week I was talking to a friend in Houston, Texas. We are helping his company with a project in “The Crescent.” He was telling me how cold it is and how bad the roads are. Suddenly while on the call he lost power. He is worried about water pipes freezing. My wife has relatives in Dallas who lost power and moved in with their son. We have other relatives and friends who were impacted in Texas and here with lost power. Freezing rain is hard on power lines no matter where it happens. This has been a tough week in our region and around the country due to cold weather, snow and ice. Electricity is something easily taken for granted.

Cold weather in south Texas is unusual but not uncommon, 2011 and 1989 were bad winters. I was in Houston for a corporate meeting in 2011 with an ice storm coming. The city was shutting down. We were fortunate to get airborne just before it hit. Our region is more prepared than Texas when it comes to cold weather because it is more common here. We still have our power outages. Power outages are an inconvenience but can be deadly to people requiring medical devices. We lost a good friend after the derecho. The elderly and the young can be at risk in extreme heat and cold in their homes without power. Electricity is not an option. It is critical to our health and safety. Gasoline and diesel fuel pumps need electricity to operate.

I am responsible for my family’s safety. Our home has a wood burning fireplace just in case we lose power in the winter. It would be nice to have natural gas but our subdivision was built during the 1980s before the shale revolution when natural gas was in short supply. The fireplace was our only source of heat during some bad snow storms and probably saved my handicapped mother-in-law’s life. We are fortunate to live in West Virginia where we have access to a lot of wood. Many people in big cities don’t have that option.

As a professional engineer, I have an ethical responsibility to speak out in my area of expertise when I am aware of situations that put people’s lives at risk. I’ve been involved in energy of all types for over 40 years. (This includes renewables and hydro) We always have had to deal with power lines down from storms. What we have never had to deal with is power sources that go down. For decades our electricity came primarily from coal, nuclear and natural gas with some oil and hydroelectric. These sources are all dependable and predictable. In recent years we began to use some wind and solar power. They are good supplemental sources but not dependable for base load like coal, nuclear and natural gas.

Now we are dealing with people who believe we should adopt the Green New Deal which would rely on wind and solar for 95% of our energy. This isn’t just dangerous. It is deadly.

The battery technology doesn’t exist to store sufficient energy from wind and solar. If we had the technology, cobalt, lithium and rare earth metals are required to manufacture batteries. None of these materials are sourced in the USA. The process to mine and refine them hurts the planet with environmental disasters in countries like China, the Congo, Australia and Latin American countries. The good news is we would not see or experience any of it. All the USA would see is “clean energy.”

Wind and solar have a place but not as base energy. Solar does not work at night (50% of the year) and when cloudy. The Shale Crescent USA (SCUSA) gets less sun than places like Texas or Florida. Solar panels don’t work well covered with snow and ice. Our region doesn’t get much wind. West Texas and offshore are more dependable for wind but it can’t always be guaranteed to blow for power like coal, nuclear, natural gas or hydro. The electric grid needs to work all the time. We need it the most in extremely hot or cold weather.

In 2010 Texas electric generation came from primarily coal 40% and natural gas 38%. Followed by nuclear 13%, wind 8% and other sources 1%. Today that has changed to natural gas 51%, wind 25%, coal 13%, nuclear 5%, solar 4% and other 2%. Was that a factor in this year’s Texas blackouts? Texas will debate that. For everyone the message is; Consumers and business need dependable affordable electricity.

Carbon emissions from the USA are down over 14% and continuing to drop. Emissions from China are continuing to increase. If the climate change experts are right and the problem is as serious as they say, China doesn’t need weapons of war to destroy the USA. They only need to keep pouring garbage into the atmosphere. Of course, they will also destroy themselves. It is time for international cooperation and teamwork. We have technology and natural gas that can help China reduce their carbon emissions. We can also use SCUSA’s location in the middle of the world’s largest economy, with advanced manufacturing, an experienced workforce, abundant economical energy and feed stock to bring industry to the SCUSA region because it is now more profitable to manufacture in the SCUSA than overseas.

If we can convince companies to expand or relocate in SCUSA we will shorten supply chains, dramatically reduce carbon emissions, reduce cost of goods for all Americans and create thousands of high wage manufacturing and spinoff jobs. A win for all Americans and the planet.

Allowing people to die in order to use renewables to fight climate change is unacceptable. When it is cold, dark and snowing I’m glad to have an electric grid I can depend on. There are better ways to fight climate change. Dream high.

Kozera, gkozera@shalecrescentusa.com is the director of marketing and sales for Shale Crescent USA, www.shalecrescentusa.com. He is a professional engineer with a master’s in environmental engineering who has over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry. He is the author of four books and numerous published articles.

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