Tony Bucco is a Republican state senator from Morris County. He recently sent out a release critical of the state’s Energy Master Plan, which calls for an almost-total phaseout of natural gas by 2050.
“While some people may place greater value on the environmental benefits of using fully electric appliances, others have legitimate concerns about losing the ability that is provided by natural gas to heat their homes, cook food, or run a standby generator to power a sump pump or refrigerator when the power goes out,” he wrote.
When I called Bucco on Thursday, there were more than 60,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey without electricity.
Bucco’s house in a rural section of Boonton Township wasn’t among them. But he has lost power for long periods in prior storms.
“When a tree goes down here it takes some time for them to get out here to fix the problem,” he told me.
It’s quite a problem. Without power he can’t get water because the pump requires electricity. The sewer system relies on electric power as well.
As many of his neighbors have done, Bucco is planning to install a generator powered by natural gas.
“A lot of people’s generators are running right now so they can flush their toilets and cook their meals versus having to go to a hotel,” Bucco said.
He’d better get that generator installed quickly.
That master plan calls for a “transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050” and natural gas doesn’t meet the state’s definition of “clean energy.”
The federal Energy Information Administration has a more positive view of gas. The EIA website states that “Burning natural gas for energy results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) than burning coal or petroleum products to produce an equal amount of energy.”
The EIA also tells us that natural gas is the state’s primary source of energy for generating electricity and that renewables provide just 5 percent.
It further tells us that “In 2018, three out of four New Jersey households used natural gas as their primary home heating fuel.”
But under the master plan, “New Jersey’s natural gas use declines to less than one fifth of today’s levels.”
The plan doesn’t state how that would be accomplished, but in other states the government is calling for homeowners to switch from gas heating and appliances to electric.
The administration has not yet released a timetable for meeting that goal. But when he unveiled the plan last year, Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey plans to lead the nation in “weaning the state off its century-old addiction to fossil fuels.”
“I guarantee you that within 10 years, every state will have to face up and do what we’re doing,” Murphy said.
Not likely, says Myron Ebell. Ebell, who is an energy specialist with the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, said many states have long-term plans like New Jersey’s. But they’re not working in the short term.
“It’s crazy,” Ebell said when I phoned him. “Compare these nutty and completely impossible plans with what’s actually happening in California and Arizona.”
In California, the planners wanted to move entirely to renewables such as wind and solar. But they soon found out they needed a consistent source of electricity for when the sun’s not out and the wind’s not blowing.
“Californians keep saying they want to get rid of gas, but faced with looming shortages at peak demand, California has ordered six peaker plants,” he said.
A “peaker plant” burns natural gas when renewables fall short. In Arizona, which has been hit by drought, the Salt River Project needed a consistent source of power to move water to cities like Phoenix.
The Salt River Project just agreed to spend almost a billion dollars on 16 new natural-gas plants.
At least they have lots of sun out west. The situation is different here in New Jersey, said Ebell.
“In New Jersey you have a particular challenge,” he said. “It’s not a sunny state. You don’t have a lot of onshore wind, and offshore wind is very expensive.”
What we do have is a 33,000-mile distribution network delivering natural gas to 2.7 million homes and businesses. Does the Murphy administration really want to cut supply to that system by four-fifths?
I couldn’t get Murphy on the phone but state Sen. Bob Smith was glad to chat. The Middlesex Democrat, who is an ardent environmentalist, said he will be sponsoring a bill to incorporate the master plan into the statutes.
“There is a way to deal with this climate-change thing and it is to electrify everything and make sure the electricity is from a renewable source,” Smith said.
When I asked whether this might require homeowners to switch from gas to electric, Smith responded, “Every damn week people are changing their houses. They’re installing sump pumps and French drains to deal with the flooding accelerated by climate change.”
As for me, I already have a sump pump.
But I sure would like to keep my gas stove.
ALSO – READ MY COLUMN ON HOW NATURAL GAS ACTUALLY LED TO THE DECLINE IN CO-2 LEVELS:
The opposition to clean-burning natural gas is more of a cult than a political movement. The cult leader is a guy by the name of Bill McKibben. An excerpt from that column on the Luddite nature of the anti-pipeline movement:
Blame a guy by the name of Bill McKibben. He’s an environmental activist who has declared a jihad on all pipelines, period. His goal is to “Keep It in the Ground” – the name for his campaign against fossil fuels.
“Every piece of fossil-fuel infrastructure will have to be contested,” McKibben writes. “Every month of delay adds new costs; every layer of uncertainty makes it harder for investors to justify.”
Read the whole thing.
(You can reach me as Paul Mulshine on Facebook and @mulshine on Twitter)