John Collier: Natural gas should remain cornerstone of Texas energy policy
Tue, June 08, 2021
Everyone in the U.S. has benefited greatly from the shale revolution. Without it, we would have remained energy dependent and the world’s largest importer of oil. We would have certainly become a large importer of liquid natural gas from OPEC+ countries. Abundant, low-cost American gas has lowered the cost of living for all citizens and has improved our competitiveness in the world economy. Shale gas has led to a rejuvenation of manufacturing and many foreign companies are escaping high energy costs abroad to invest within in the United States.
According to a report prepared for the Department of Energy, CO2 emissions in the U.S. power sector have decreased over 33% since 2005, while natural gas-fired electricity has increased by 108% during the same time. This is largely due to clean-burning natural gas replacing coal-fired power plants.
Since no new coal or nuclear plants are being built, natural gas makes up the majority of the dispatchable power supply in Texas. That means its output can easily be increased or decreased as needed to meet demand for electricity, known as a baseload power supply. Wind and solar can flood the grid when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, but they disappear quickly if there is significant cloud cover or minimal wind.
On the morning of Feb. 15, like many people around the state, my family woke up in a cold, dark house. As my kids roasted hot dogs in the fireplace for breakfast and I made coffee in the garage with a generator, news got to us that it would likely be days before we had electricity. Luckily, we were able to go to a relative’s house that was backed up by a natural gas-powered generator. So we spent the week warm, but worried about those less fortunate.
As the ice finally thawed, the finger-pointing began in the aftermath of the historic storm that swept across Texas. Yet as we learn more about how the storm affected our state’s electricity grid, it has become clear that much of the blame does not reflect reality.
To be certain, every energy system faced challenges to remain online as infrastructure froze and demand soared. That is what happens when a southern state like Texas gets slammed with record freezing temperatures that we normally associate with North Dakota or Montana.
During normal weather, thanks to our state’s abundant natural resources, including natural gas, wind, coal and, increasingly, solar, alternate as the primary fuel that powers the electricity grid depending on the time of day. But during the week of Feb. 15, as temperatures plummeted and demand skyrocketed, it was natural gas that became the dominant fuel in Texas’ energy mix during all hours of the day, as shown by data from the Energy Information Administration.
Natural gas was consistently able to generate upwards of 40,000 megawatt hours of electricity when every other source struggled to reach half that amount. In fact, at the height of the storm, natural gas generated more electricity than all other energy sources — combined.
SP Global Platts, the highly respected analytics firm, also reported that natural gas shouldered the burden for electricity generation, according to a quote tweeted by Richard Meyer of the American Gas Association: “Despite wind accounting for 25% of generation in ERCOT in January, it too dipped as low as 6-7% on Feb. 15-16. Natural gas, however, surged to as high as 65% on those days to offset losses from coal and wind.”
While no energy system performed perfectly, if it were not for the state’s abundant natural gas, the consequences for Texans during the storm would have been much worse.
Moving ahead, the energy industry, elected leaders and regulators will all need to take serious steps to ensure that our electricity grid is not vulnerable to cold (or extremely hot) weather and that Texans never again have to suffer like we did in February. The influx of people moving into the state will only add more demand and more need for reform.
These reforms will call for improvements with every energy source and for all facets of the energy distribution system, but we need to remember the critical role that natural gas played during the storm and ignore the anti-energy activists who only seek to undermine the industry.
Natural gas was the only abundant and reliable fuel that powered Texas’ energy mix during the storm, and it should remain a cornerstone of our state and nation’s energy policy moving forward.
John B. Collier V of Fort Worth is president of the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners, a nonprofit business group that represents millions of “little bitty oil” mineral rights owners. His family operates Collier Diamond C Ranch in Erath County.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald.