Evidence-based analysis of sustainability initiatives – Part 2: There is no such thing as “clean energy”.

Utilities are claiming that natural gas plants produce relatively clean energy compared to other fossil-fuel electricity producing plants such as coal-fired facilities. Some are promoting this as a bridge until renewable energy sources become the norm. Unfortunately, over a period of 25 years, natural gas plants create more global warming than coal- fired plants. http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf. The explanation here is somewhat of an oversimplification, but should suffice to elicit comments.

The coal plants produce high quantities of sulfur dioxide, which blocks global warming by reflecting sunlight. On the other hand, natural gas plants produce high levels of methane, which has a much higher greenhouse gas warming effect per weight than carbon dioxide. “Methane has a global warming potential that is 72–105 times greater than carbon dioxide over an integrated 20-year period after emission and 25–33 times greater over a century period.”

In addition, life-cycle emissions from natural gas extraction by fracking, and then its subsequent transportation and refining, releases higher quantities of both carbon dioxide and methane, as well as releasing other toxins into the environment. Over a period of time, the methane more than cancels out the decreased carbon emissions from natural gas plants relative to coal-fired plants.

“Thus, natural gas is not a near-term ‘‘low’’ greenhouse-gas alternative, in absolute terms or relative to coal. Moreover, it does not provide a unique or special path to renewable energy, and as a result, it is not bridge fuel and is not a useful component of a sustainable energy plan.”

Sometimes you don’t get what you think you’re paying for. Sometimes you get more of what you think you’re paying for to get less.

William F. Goetz, MD

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