Clean natural gas isn’t a fuel source the public readily associates with electricity generation, because 75 percent of New Jersey households use natural gas directly, for heating their homes and cooking. The fact is, however, that natural gas fuels 56 percent of our electricity generation, too.
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, coal and oil accounted for about 20 percent of our electric portfolio as recently as 2005. Since that time, the emergence of low-cost, abundant natural gas in nearby Pennsylvania has allowed New Jersey to simultaneously reduce energy bills for residents and businesses and reduce carbon emissions, as coal plants have closed here in New Jersey, and across the river in Pennsylvania.
Today, total carbon emissions from the power sector are lower than they were 20 years ago, even though total electric generation in New Jersey is up 86 percent over that time. Today, New Jersey is among the states with the lowest carbon emissions per capita in the country.
It’s an environmental victory that, sadly, some environmental organizations don’t want to acknowledge. A recent op-ed by one of these groups continues the use of misinformation, hyperbole, and fear to distract from the benefits achieved through the use of natural gas.
Underground natural gas pipelines like PennEast are important for a stable and reliable energy grid. In fact, PJM Interconnection, the world’s largest electric grid operator, affirmed this fact in a 2016 presentation to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
PennEast would directly access one of the most abundant and affordable supplies of energy in the nation, located just over 100 miles from our state line. For perspective, over the past two weeks with frigid cold, natural-gas prices in New Jersey were seven-to-12 times higher than those in the Pennsylvania production areas, which clearly highlights the fact that there is not enough pipeline capacity to deliver sufficient supply to New Jersey consumers when demand is high.
Business backs pipelines
Pipelines like PennEast also have universal support from New Jersey’s business community, because abundant energy supplies stabilize pricing for large energy users, including our state’s manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals — all of which provide long-term jobs and critical investments in our state’s economy.
And we know that PennEast is safe for the environment, because three different government regulators, including the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the presidency of Barack Obama, have said it can be constructed and operated with minimal impacts to air, water, and land. That construction includes aligning nearly half of the PennEast route in New Jersey with existing overhead powerlines to minimize tree clearing. This alignment also creates significant new open space opportunities for New Jersey due to state mitigation requirements.
Finally, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission agreed that the arsenic scare tactics recently used by some opponents are “misinformation” and “not supported by empirical data.” In fact, the only geologist (a noted arsenic expert and former NJDEP researcher) to conduct field studies along the actual route in line with EPA standards found its construction and operation to be safe for the impacted areas.
Natural gas and renewables
We can all agree that our energy future includes renewables as part of a diversified energy mix. In fact, the New Jersey Utilities Association’s member companies have invested significant financial capital to that end. Clean-burning natural gas is a necessary complement to renewable generation, ensuring stable, reliable, round-the-clock energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
Further, as our economy moves toward zero- and low-emission vehicles in the years ahead, natural gas can help cut emissions from the transportation sector, the largest contributor by far to New Jersey’s total carbon emissions — nearly four times as large as the power generation sector.
A responsible energy portfolio balances cost, reliability, and environmental impact. Fortunately, underground pipelines like PennEast can achieve all three, to the benefit of New Jersey’s families and businesses.