Natural gas a big part of Ohio’s clean energy future

Recently, President Barack Obama made a powerful statement regarding America’s energy future. While speaking about how to best address climate change, the president reminded Americans that the need to cut carbon emissions is critical, and that the best way to do so at the moment is to look to our cleanest, most responsible bridge fuels: natural gas and nuclear. Obama encouraged the notion of energy solutions that reflect living in the “real world” – meaning that if we are going to take serious, effective steps to cut emissions and curb climate change, we must make realistic energy policy decisions based on scientific facts and options available today. Those facts include the cleaner nature of abundant natural gas, and renewables’ current inability to shoulder enough of our national energy demand.

The reality is that we need natural gas in order to even consider shifting towards a nationwide energy infrastructure system where the majority of us get heat and light from the sun and wind. It’s not possible to fully power a country the size of the United States, and continue to grow the economy and provide good jobs, solely with wind and solar power. Even the promising wind and solar projects that are being proposed currently rely on natural gas for backup power, for when the sun isn’t shining and the skies are still.

Here in southwest Ohio, we have several natural gas power plants that are under construction or in the planning stages: Middletown Energy Center in Butler County and Pickaway Energy Center in Pickaway County. In addition to stable, clean power, these facilities will provide skills training for our workforce and good-paying jobs for Ohioans for decades.

Currently, we Ohioans are at risk of massive blackouts in our homes and businesses in the not-so-distant future. This notion can be frightening, so let me further explain – under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the state must reduce carbon emissions by 28 percent by 2030. Ohio currently produces two-thirds of its power from high-carbon energy sources, so without new capacity, Ohio faces a 27 percent power deficit by 2030 – a 49 million megawatt/hour energy shortage, or the equivalent of lights-out for 4.4 million Ohio homes. Twenty-seven percent of our power supply means that we’d be without a solid source of electricity from October onward for the rest of the year.

Renewables alone are not enough at this time. To fill the clean energy shortage, Ohio would need over 167,000 acres of solar panels – which would cost approximately $78 billion and cover an area three times the size of Cleveland. To find out more about natural gas’ benefits for Ohio, I direct you to the Clean Power Progress initiative, which is seeking to add facts and data to the national energy conversation.

Clean and affordable natural gas is the only realistic way to reach our clean air targets while spurring economic growth. The benefits of natural gas are immense: it burns twice as clean as coal, and has already helped level off America’s carbon emissions. Embracing a sound balance of natural gas and renewable energy infrastructure is the only way to keep the lights on and demonstrate global energy leadership by reducing our dependence on foreign fuels.

A majority of Americans support the goal of cleaner energy solutions for our nation, but we need to come together and find common ground around the answers that are available to us right now – and not make renewables into some “silver bullet” when they aren’t ready for their shot. President Obama is absolutely correct in outlining serious goals for our nation’s clean energy profile; he is also correct in acknowledging that we need to work within what’s possible. Fortunately for those of us here in southwest Ohio, we have an abundance of resources that if developed will allow us to do just that, and keep food on our families’ tables.