Illustration; Source: Natural Allies

Are natural gas and renewables keys to unlocking a low-emission energy future in the US?

While some may deny the need for climate action, most tend to agree that climate change needs to be tackled to ensure the survival of multiple species and habitable communities, among other things. As a result, global leaders are looking into alternatives to coal and oil to meet the Paris Agreement targets and their countries’ low-carbon and green energy goals. With this in mind, Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), points out that America is in need of an energy strategy that features natural gas as a crucial element along with renewable energy to come to grips with climate and energy challenges.

Illustration; Source: Natural Allies

On a mission to glean more insight into the future of energy and climate change policy, former Congressman Kendrick Meek (D-FL) and former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) recently had a chat with Congressman Steven Horsford. During the chat, the trio discussed the opportunity that natural gas presents as a solution to lower emissions and as a means to provide reliable, affordable energy for families while creating jobs for millions of working-class Americans. 

“Yes, we do have a climate crisis. And that is why the legislation that’s been passed under President Biden and Vice President Harris is all about making the largest investment of any country in the world. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to convert to it overnight without the technologies, without the investments, without the infrastructure. That’s why it’s important to have natural gas as a reliable energy resource, in addition to the fact that it provides a ton of jobs and good paying jobs, union jobs that really do benefit the communities, particularly rural areas,” highlighted Rep. Horsford.

After the previous five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program expired with no new plan in place, multiple energy trade groups urged the Biden administration several weeks ago in a letter sent to President Joe Biden, to finalize a program that includes the maximum number of lease sales and begin the pre-leasing work required to start holding sales in 2024. This along with a new permitting reform is perceived to be important for ensuring America’s energy future.

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Furthermore, during the conversation the three politicians engaged in, Rep. Meek brought attention to the heavy burden of climate and energy on Black Americans. The former Florida lawmaker recently joined the Natural Allies Leadership Council, a national coalition that is raising awareness on why natural gas is best partnered with renewable energy like wind and solar as a pragmatic way forward to accelerate clean energy goals.

“Black communities shoulder the burden of coal-burning infrastructure that drives up their risk of respiratory illnesses. Infrastructural and economic racism means many Black families struggle to pay their energy bills; installing solar panels is just not a realistic option for them. This is unsurprising when you consider the low representation of Black Americans within the energy sector – only 17% of which are in leadership positions. We need to make sure the voice and message of Black Americans is taken seriously in our conversations to build a cleaner, healthier future,” outlined Rep. Meek.

While the infrastructure for renewable energy takes time to build and is not always reliable, causing cities to utilize carbon-intensive sources like coal and heating oil during the cold winter months, the trio agrees that natural gas is “the most realistic solution” that can be deployed immediately as the U.S. continues to develop renewable energy infrastructure to meet the energy demands of the future. 

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“When it comes to energy policy, we need to think creatively. While we work hard to land on bipartisan policy solutions to the climate question, there are folks all over the country who are concerned with how they will stay warm with winter approaching. Renewables are not yet an answer for middle-class Americans who are struggling to pay their bills, and we cannot overlook them. I am proud of the work we have done in Louisiana to fight climate change while maintaining affordability and creating thousands of jobs,” underscored Sen. Landrieu, co-chair of Natural Allies Leadership Council.

While President Joe Biden and policymakers draft net-zero emission goals by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, Columbia University and Princeton University researchers analyzed various pathways to get America there. A 2020 Princeton University study found that natural gas would continue to play a role in a reliable energy grid. 

In line with this, Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy stated“While it may seem counterintuitive, investing more in the domestic natural gas pipeline network could help the U.S. reach net-zero emission goals more quickly and cheaply.” 

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The report highlights the role of the 2.5 million-mile existing pipeline infrastructure that will rely on green hydrogen or biogas in the future to reduce the carbon content of the existing natural gas system. On the other hand, a study from December 2020 by General Electric says that the strategic deployment “of renewables and gas power can change the trajectory for climate change, enabling substantiative reductions in emissions quickly.”

The same study emphasizes that carbon emissions are cut up to 40% more when renewables and natural gas work together, rather than when renewables work on their own – which still requires higher-emitting power to fill the gaps. Natural Allies underlines that other energy sources are needed to fill the gaps and avoid blackouts since renewable sources like wind and solar only work part of the time.

A 2020 Progressive Policy Institute report found natural gas would help to manage the risk of a rapid expansion of renewables with regard to price and reliability – keeping the lights on by dispatching within minutes when renewables cannot keep up with customer demand.

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Meanwhile, the incoming 2024 presidential run in the U.S. may shake things up and bring changes to energy policies as it is shaping into a referendum of sorts on clean energy and net-zero aspirations, with most of the Democratic Party and their Republican counterparts drawing a clear line on this issue. While Democrats’ stance indicates a further push for green energy, the majority of Republicans are seeking to bring forth more fossil fuels with very few – if any – clean energy initiatives included in their energy agendas. 

This was confirmed within the new energy plan, presented by the governor of Florida and Republican presidential contender, Ron DeSantis, who plans to overturn green policies and double down on fossil fuels if he wins the presidential elections in the U.S. next year, bringing America’s energy transition journey and net-zero agenda to a swift end.

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President Biden’s Bidenomics or economic agenda, targeting more than $500 billion in private sector manufacturing and clean energy investments to fuel America’s energy transition story and green future, entails a goal of bringing 30 GW of offshore wind to life by 2030. One of Offshore Energy’s previous interviews also flagged the U.S. offshore wind sector for growth.

Most Democrats, like Biden and the current governor of California, Gavin Newsom, are dedicated to mitigating climate change by rolling out renewables and innovative low-carbon and emission reduction measures to ensure a more sustainable future in line with the Paris Agreement. The left-wing politicians tend to see fossil fuels as the primary driver of climate change, thus, they advocate the phaseout of traditional energy sources and the acceleration of net-zero measures.

Newsom hammered this home recently by supporting a lawsuit that was filed in San Francisco County Superior Court against five oil majors – ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP – and the American Petroleum Institute (API) for their alleged role in watering down the potential risks fossil fuels pose for climate and the environment while creating “statewide climate change-related harms in California.” The aim of this legal action is to hold Big Oil accountable for climate change.

While efforts to put an end to fossil fuels development are certainly gaining ground, the oil and gas industry is still very much in the game and well-positioned to keep its spot in the future energy mix, especially natural gas, which is often seen as a bridge fuel to a carbon-free world. 

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