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Of Russian Gas, Nuclear Power, and Renewables

February 19, 2018

LNG Everett terminal against a sunset skylineWhen shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) reach the Massachusetts Distrigas Terminal in Everett, they are usually from Trinidad.  But this winter, extra shipments were needed to meet the high demand for gas heating and to keep the lights on.  This LNG came from Russia through their new terminal in Yamal, a site in the Arctic Circle 1550 miles from Moscow. A Boston Globe editorial offered its opinion on the Yamal LNG facility in “Our Russian Pipeline and its ugly toll” (February 13, 2018).

Chris Kapsambelis, a regular Wind Wise Massachusetts commentator, posted this  response on the Globe web site. “We might all wish for a clean energy future,” he wrote, “but realistically we may be forced into a system of wind and solar with dirty natural gas firming which pollution-wise is no better than what we got.” Read his full comment here:

The early retirement of coal and nuclear power plants is based on the expectation that renewable energy from wind and solar is a replacement that avoids fossil fuel pollution at a lower cost. It is not working out. The loss of both coal and nuclear cancel each other out for a net zero change in carbon emissions. Variable and intermittent wind and solar need backup firming from inefficient natural gas peaking power plants, again for a net zero change in carbon emissions.

Our rates are going sky high to support a policy that is not working. ISO-NE tells us that for the policy to work, we need seasonal energy storage. That is we need to store enough wind and solar energy in the Fall and Spring to address peak demand in the Winter and Summer. No one knows when, if ever,  in the future seasonal storage may materialize. Until then we should put a halt to land based wind turbines with their high impact on the health of nearby residents, bird and bat kills, and mountain ridge destruction. Furthermore, we should rescue nuclear power plants like Pilgrim, and promote the development of new and safer nuclear power for the future.

We might all wish for a clean energy future from wind and solar backed up by seasonal energy storage, but realistically we may be forced into a system of wind and solar with dirty natural gas firming which pollution-wise is no better than what we got. Of the three choices, nuclear with a small amount of natural gas to address demand fluctuations looks to be our best and cheapest solution.

The editorial addresses the environmental cost of Russian gas processing. The letters and comments in response form an intriguing thread, worth the time to follow.

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