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Federal Agency's Forecast Says U.S. Could Be Free of Energy Imports by 2020-2030

U.S. Energy Information Administration see rise in natural gas, renewables, mirroring developments in New Jersey

EIA Energy

The United States may finally be moving to a time when it no longer needs imports from foreign countries to meet its energy needs.

In its annual outlook with projections out to 2040, the U.S. Energy Information Administration yesterday forecast net energy imports will decline and ultimately end -- driven by growth in production of crude oil and natural gas and increased use of renewable energy, as well as only modest growth in demand under most scenarios.

By 2030, the United States will become a net energy exporter, according to Adam Sieminski, an EIA administrator, who said there is a potential to eliminate net U.S. imports in the 2020 to 2030 timeframe. This country has been a net importer of energy since the 1950s.

The implications of that trend could have a big impact on New Jersey, particularly as it relates to natural gas. The extraction of natural gas deposits, such as those in the Marcellus Shale formation in neighboring Pennsylvania and other states, suggests a concurrent growth in the pipeline infrastructure to deliver the fuel to markets, Sieminski said.

“The center of gravity for natural gas is shifting,’’ he said at a news conference outlining details of the annual energy outlook, saying more of the nation’s electricity will be produced by the fuel, replacing coal to a large extent.

That already is happening in New Jersey, with roughly a dozen pipeline projects either under consideration or approved. Those proposals have elicited enormous opposition at times from local residents and environmental groups, in part because some of the projects go through preserved open space and farmland.

While the pipeline expansions have created much controversy, the lower cost of natural gas from nearby supplies has led to steep drops in heating costs for consumers in the state, as well as less energy expenses for manufacturers. The Christie administration’s Energy Master Plan promotes such projects. The extraction of both oil and natural gas by new drilling technologies, however, has generated a great deal of opposition.

In New Jersey and other states in the Northeast, environmentalists fear that fracking -- drilling operations that involve injecting huge volumes of water and smaller amounts of chemicals into the shale formations -- could end up polluting water supplies for the millions of people. In other states, like Oklahoma, some believe the drilling operations are the cause of a dramatic increase in earthquakes.

According to the EIA, renewable energy could meet much of growth in energy demand, especially in a market characterized by relatively slow electricity growth with the high capital costs associated with new coal and nuclear generation.

That trend, too, coincides with what is happening in New Jersey as clean energy advocates press lawmakers and the Christie administration to ramp up targets to increase the state’s reliance on renewable energy.

Some, however, argue that the EIA continues to underestimate the potential for renewable energy to replace conventional sources of power generation, many of which contribute to global climate change.

“They’re getting better. They’re getting closer to mapping the growth in renewable energy,’’ said John Rogers, a senior analyst for clean energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “What’s worrisome is when you get past 2020, we’re not seeing the growth we expect to see.’’

Rogers said the energy outlook appears to not factor in the dramatic drops in capital and other costs associated with renewable energy, particularly solar power. “They continue to low-ball renewable energy potential,’’ he said.

During the conference call, however, Sieminaski said that wind power is expected to surpass hydropower in the amount of electricity produced.

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