Why invest billions when we’re moving away from fossil fuels?
Re “Pipeline work, climate goals called at odds: Report says gas repairs may not be best solution” (Page A1, Oct. 4): Would you remodel a house that was scheduled to be demolished to make room for a freeway or, more to the point, a solar farm? The 21,000 miles of aging gas pipelines under the streets of Massachusetts are just a fraction of the fossil fuel infrastructure that needs to be capped off and relegated to the dustbin of history. It is crucial to leave the fossil fuels in the ground to maintain a livable earth.
Yes, stop the super-emitters among the natural gas leaks, but don’t invest billions in projects that need to be idled soon anyway in order to avoid global catastrophe. Proposing natural gas as a bridge fuel is a cynical ploy advocated by the extractive industries. Carbon is carbon, and being less bad than coal is still bad. Scrap the current Gas System Enhancement Program and devote that money to the future, not the past.
In addition, advocate for a carbon-fee-and-dividend to provide an equitable transition that does not burden lower-income families as we accelerate the move away from fossil fuels.
Gary M. Stewart
Laguna Beach, Calif.
Rethink the repair-and-replace strategy for gas infrastructure
Sabrina Shankman’s article describes in detail the environmental wake-up call that economist Dorie Seavey’s report for the Gas Leaks Allies represents. The urgency of climate change demands a reexamination of the current repair-and-replace strategy for gas infrastructure — a plan that will be outdated by the scheduled completion time, at great and escalating cost to the public.
This report reveals the dangers and costs of the program that is in place, and challenges all stakeholders to develop strategies that will support an economically viable transition off fossil fuels and provide safe energy solutions for the future. For the health of our families, communities, and planet, the move to cleaner energy sources is essential. I look to the Globe to continue to report on this critical issue that affects the health and well-being of all of us.
Consider move to geothermal energy grid
Sabrina Shankman’s reporting on the failure of the Gas System Enhancement Program makes only an oblique allusion to a technology that would deliver carbon-free heating and cooling while providing gas utilities a pathway to the future.
That technology is networked geothermal heating and cooling, also known as geothermal micro-districts. The idea is that buildings within proximity of each other, both commercial and residential, can share infrastructure that taps into the ground’s natural capacity for temperature regulation. Feasibility studies show that the efficiency gained from networking would substantially lower costs and bring payback periods into a reasonable timeframe.
It isn’t so hard to imagine the gas utilities making the transition from maintaining a gas distribution system to providing services for a geothermal energy grid.
The gas utilities are currently profiting from the work mandated by GSEP, but now the evidence is in. That program is failing to reduce net gas leakage at an acceptable rate. It’s time to redirect some of the funds for that program into networked geothermal conversions.
Getting rid of the Commonwealth’s gas infrastructure is one of those things that sounds impossible — until it isn’t.
Focus instead on helping homeowners convert to renewable energy
The business model for utilities is perverse: They make their money not by supplying customers with energy but by building infrastructure and passing the costs — with a healthy profit margin — on to their customers. Thus, gas companies have an incentive to exaggerate the need for new or rebuilt pipelines. And their plans are inconsistent with Massachusetts’ legal obligations to quickly replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.
The Globe’s report on this important study from Gas Leaks Allies makes clear that ratepayers will be stuck with $20 billion in surcharges if these leaky pipelines are all replaced, and gas companies will be saddled with stranded assets.
Since heating homes with electric heat pumps is already cheaper than heating with methane, our resources should be focused instead on helping homeowners convert to renewable, nonpolluting energy.
These fast-changing climate goals can be daunting
The article “Pipeline work, climate goals called at odds” reports that abandoning natural gas pipelines is under consideration.
In 2013, my oil-burning furnace failed, so I had to choose between a new oil burner, propane gas, or natural gas. As luck would have it, a new natural gas pipeline had been installed along my street about a year or two earlier. Since natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than propane, I opted for a natural gas system, at a cost of nearly $10,000. By tracking the annual cost of oil previously and then the annual cost of natural gas, I found that I was saving about $1,000 per year with natural gas as opposed to oil. Therefore, it would take about 10 years to recover the investment and begin saving on home heating costs.
Now the plan seems to be to get homeowners to switch to electric heat. First, many years ago, as I looked to buy a home, I found that electrically heated homes had to have about 6 inches of insulation in walls, instead of the standard 3 or 4 inches, and it still would be expensive. My house is about 50 years old. What are homeowners like me to do?
I fear that climate goals are changing faster than homeowners can afford to participate.