The following is a contributed article by Dave Schryver, President and CEO of the American Public Gas Association. It is a counter piece to "Local communities want to lead the fight for clean energy," an opinion piece by Alejandra Mejia Cunningham, building decarbonization advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Proponents of gas bans consistently overlook the flaws of their proposals, including the most important reality: the U.S. electric grid cannot meet the energy demands of every American household through renewable energy alone — as we saw when outages in Texas left millions without power and, in cases where residents lacked natural gas access in their homes, without heat.
Cities across the nation are pursuing all-electric energy policies that ban the direct use of natural gas in the home, forcing consumers to make the costly transition to less-efficient, all-electric appliances. Given Americans' current reliance on natural gas, the limited availability of renewable energy and the fragility of the U.S. power grid, a lot is at stake when untested policies are forced on consumers.
The intermittent nature of renewable sources like solar and wind necessitates another form of energy when the sun isn't shining, and the wind isn't blowing. Eliminating the direct use of natural gas in homes and businesses would simply shift the use of natural gas from inside the home to powering an already overburdened electric grid through natural gas-fired power plants — if we're lucky — and in some cases, coal-powered plants.
Shortsighted proposals that force total electrification on Americans fail to recognize the essential role natural gas plays in providing efficient, low-emission energy. Since 1970, gas utilities have added more than 30 million residential customers with virtually no increase in emissions, and the sector continues to shrink its carbon footprint by utilizing existing infrastructure to drive even greater efficiency with innovations like renewable natural gas and the use of hydrogen.
Gas ban policy proposals also fail to take advantage of the remarkable efficiency of the direct use of natural gas in the home. When used directly for cooking, clothes drying and home and water heating, natural gas has a source-to-site efficiency of 92% — meaning nearly all of the energy contained in the original gas is utilized in appliances. However, when natural gas-fired power plants generate electricity for these same appliances, the efficiency is only 37%.
As the U.S. electric grid already relies heavily on natural gas for power generation, electrification policies that increase the number of homes and businesses dependent on the grid would simply push natural gas "out of sight and out of mind," shifting from the direct use inside the home to powering generation plants. Counter to electrification advocates' goals, natural gas bans would increase, rather than decrease, the share of the country's energy mix coming from gas in its least-efficient form — natural gas-fired power plants — thereby forfeiting the efficiency of residential direct use and increasing our dependency on a strained electric grid.
Additionally, bans on natural gas use are expected to increase average annual household energy costs by between $750 and $910, or about 38-46%. Forcing natural gas customers to front the cost of transitioning to a less-efficient power grid that leaves them more vulnerable to outages would place a large financial burden on American families, and particularly those living on low or fixed incomes.
Beyond the $150 billion that electric grid failures cost Americans each year, recent weather events in California and Texas have shown us the human cost of unreliable energy sources. As Americans remain reliant on natural gas for heating and cooking, politicians should not ignore the potential for energy policy decisions to leave customers out in the cold.
The U.S. power grid cannot support an all-renewable model without natural gas; the choice policymakers face is whether to use natural gas in its most-efficient form — directly in the home — or in the least-efficient way, powering the electric grid. To make meaningful progress in meeting important climate goals, we cannot afford to shift natural gas use "out of sight and out of mind" by banning the efficient, resilient and affordable direct use of natural gas in the home and forcing consumers to rely on an unpredictable all-electric power grid.
We urge our colleagues in the energy sector and members of Congress to join us in working together to foster an equitable energy future where renewables and natural gas work together to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, keep energy costs low and ensure energy stability and resiliency for years to come.