Fuel Oil Saves the Day for New England Virtue Signalers
Jim Willis on NGL Pipelines
Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
[Editor’s Note: New England politicians have made the region’s grid vulnerable to blackouts and dependent on fuel oil due to their pig-headed virtue signaling obsession.]
We came “this close” to a major electricity blackout in New England over the Christmas break, during the bomb cyclone cold snap called Winter Storm Elliott. The ONLY thing that prevented a major blackout (with people freezing to death) was…oil. Fuel oil, specifically. So-called renewable energy–solar and wind–bombed out during the bomb cyclone.
Natural gas did what it could, but there wasn’t enough natgas to keep the power generators turning because people like newly-elected Gov. Maura Healey (Massachusetts wacko leftist) blocked new natgas pipelines during her tenure as the state’s Attorney General. What was left was to burn to keep the lights on and to keep people from freezing to death was fuel oil (much dirtier than natural gas). Welcome to the leftist utopia of New England. During the next bomb cyclone, New England may not be so lucky.
Using fuel oil to power electric plants is not ideal. On January 16, 2022, during another cold snap, some 24% of New England’s electricity was generated by fuel oil–a huge amount. But that number got dwarfed by what happened on Dec. 24 when some 40% of New England’s electricity was generated by fuel oil. It was either use fuel oil or experience blackouts. As of Monday, Dec. 26, some 29% of the New England grid’s electricity was STILL being provided by burning fuel oil (continued to be the #1 source). Amazing!
Solar and wind were largely offline during the freezing temps, and as we said in our opener, with a severe lack of pipelines for natural gas, the only option left has been to haul out the fuel oil. Very expensive and not nearly as clean as natgas.
David Blackmon, writing for Forbes, chronicles what happened:
New England seems unable to reduce its reliance on fuel oil to generate electricity during times of peak usage. This weekend provided another clear example of how the region’s much-hyped clean energy planning continues to fail to make real inroads when it really counts during severe winter weather events.
Last January 17 I wrote a piece about the fact that the grid that provides electricity to the New England states had relied on fuel oil, an archaic power source little used in most of the rest of the United States, for 24% of its generating capacity in the peak hours of January 16. But the new England grid far surpassed that percentage on Saturday, December 24, as reported by Bloomberg. On that day, fuel oil generated as much as a whopping 40% of overall electricity during peak hours, as severe weather conditions forced solar and wind generating capacity largely offline and utilities resorted to fuel switching from natural gas as gas prices spiked.
As was the case in January, New England’s utility customers had the pleasure of paying some of the highest rates in the country to avoid freezing in the dark, as spot electricity prices rose to more than $1800 per megawatt hour during peak times. Grid operator ISO New England also attributed the spike in fuel oil usage to a limited ability to import electricity from other regions as power demand spiked all over the country. ISO New England declared a level 1 emergency and asked customers to conserve electricity during the worst of the freeze event.
As of this writing, at 8:00 a.m. CT on Monday, fuel oil is still providing 29% of the grid’s generating capacity:
It is also key to note that, while the chart above indicates that “renewables” are providing 8% of the generation mix, only a little over half of that comes from wind and solar. The rest comes from a mix of burning carbon-generating trash and wood, along with renewable natural gas recovered from landfills:
Such heavy usage of fuel oil is a unique feature of the New England grid in the U.S., as policymakers have focused incentives and subsidies in recent years on the build-out of intermittent wind and solar capacity at the expense of investing in new nuclear or dispatchable thermal capacity powered by natural gas and coal. The use of fuel oil in any significant way fell out of favor half a century ago in other parts of the United States, as emissions regulations increased in their severity and coal became a far cheaper source of power generation.
Around the rest of the world, fuel oil remains a favored source of generation in isolated island regions like the Caribbean and across the island nations of the Indian Ocean, where alternatives are scarce and very costly. One major reason for New England’s ongoing situation has been the blockade set up by the federal government and New York State on the building of new natural gas pipeline capacity to bring in gas from the nearby Marcellus shale region, the most prolific natural gas play in the United States.
New England states are also prevented from importing domestic natural gas in the form of LNG by the archaic provisions of the Jones Act, which restricts movement of any goods from one domestic port to another to U.S.-flagged ships staffed by U.S. crews. The lack of U.S.-flagged LNG tankers results in a steady flow each winter of foreign vessels carrying high-priced LNG cargoes into Boston Harbor from countries like Qatar, Algeria and even Russia.
Like the rest of the United States, the ability to permit and build new nuclear fission generating capacity has been heavily restricted in New England since the incident at Three Mile Island took place 43 years ago.
During major weather events like the one that hit New England over the weekend, natural gas becomes increasingly scarce and costly. Both wind and solar, still lacking the long-promised but still un-delivered stationary battery back up capacity, invariably drop to extremely low output levels despite their big nameplate numbers, and utilities that operate dual fuel plants make the choice of switching to burning fuel oil as a cost-saving measure.
Because of the design of the New England grid, fuel oil is the reserve emergency fuel source by default. Thus, we end up seeing days like Saturday, when this archaic generation fuel source provides more than twice as much electricity than any other source on the grid. It is fair to point out that this situation exists entirely due to choices made by policymakers in the New England states and the federal government. None of this just happened organically.
Jack McEvoy, writing on the Daily Caller website, points out that renewables “failed to meet power demand when it was most needed”:
Renewable energy was unable to generate sufficient power to meet elevated energy demand during Christmas Eve snowstorms, forcing utilities in the northeastern U.S. and Texas to burn more fossil fuels to prevent outages.
Although wind turbines, solar panels and other forms of green energy have been consistently touted by the Biden administration as reliable alternatives to fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, renewables accounted for a small percentage of grids’ power output after snowstorms and a “bomb cyclone” nearly caused power outages in New England and Texas. Grid operators in both areas were forced to burn oil, a fuel that is significantly less efficient than natural gas, to avoid power outages as renewable energy sources were stymied by the harsh weather.
“Fossil fuels are needed to keep us alive and we see this when climate idealism meets the reality of the weather,” Larry Behrens, communications director for Power the Future, a nonprofit that advocates for American energy workers, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Energy and electricity infrastructure that took years to build is being undone with the stroke of a pen because of what the climate cult is pushing.”
When the cyclone, dubbed “Storm Elliott,” caused blizzards in New England on Dec. 24, New England grid operator ISO NE declared an energy emergency level 1 due to potential power shortages and called on its customers to voluntarily cut energy consumption. That same day, renewables across the region’s grid accounted for just 6% of the region’s energy mix, while fuel oil and natural gas produced over 55% of the region’s power, according to Bloomberg.
“People hear so much about renewables and think they are a huge portion of the energy mix when they aren’t, especially not in New England,” Meredith Angwin, author of “Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid,” told the DCNF.
Angwin also noted that while natural gas is normally used as a stopgap to supply the region with energy during the winter, gas shortages have persisted throughout most of the year and have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. New England tends to use oil to generate electricity when natural gas prices are high, causing imports of the fuel to drop, ISO NE Lead Communications Specialist Matt Kakley told the DCNF.
On Dec. 24, the Department of Energy declared an energy emergency in Texas and gave the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) permission to forgo environmental restrictions and burn fuel oil to prevent energy shortages, according to a department order. Wind, solar and thermal energy were able to meet 22% of Texas’ energy demand at the time; however, the renewables were unable to operate at full capacity due to the weather, causing the department to allow ERCOT to use oil to keep the lights on.
Even though natural gas is the most widely used form of energy in the U.S., temperatures became so cold that pipelines and wells transporting gas began to freeze, straining energy supplies in Texas, New England and several other parts of the country, Bloomberg reported.
“Though the variability of wind and solar are well known and discussed a lot, these freezes also show the flimsiness of the gas system,” Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas in Austin, told Bloomberg.
Wind power is the second-largest source of energy in Texas and generated 20% of the state’s power in 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, wind turbines do not operate well in cold weather or windy conditions as they can be destroyed if wind speeds are too high, Angwin noted.
“They have a capacity factor of about 30% … that is the percentage of time that they can operate,” she said.
Although Northeastern states are nearby the Appalachian and Marcellus Shale natural gas basins, gas pipeline projects have been previously blocked by the New York government and environmental groups. An increase in coal plant retirements and a lack of natural gas pipelines could create long-term vulnerabilities for the grids across the country, according to a December report produced by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, an energy watchdog.
Wind energy, a power source that the Biden administration is looking to rapidly expand, currently accounts for roughly just 18% of the region’s green energy power generation while the bulk of renewable energy is provided by burning refuse and wood, according to ISO NE.
“We can’t cut out the fuels some people want to get rid of because we will be at the mercy of the weather without them … hoping renewables work when we need them to is not a strategy,” Behrens said.
According to author Alex Epstein, the root cause of our electric grid’s reliability problems is simple: We need more fossil energy. Deroy Murdock, Fox News contributor, unloads on anti-choice Democrats and neo-totalitarian eco-extremists:
The just-departed polar vortex confirmed that when Mother Nature is enraged, it’s wise to have options. Maddeningly, today’s “pro-choice” Democrats want Americans to have one energy choice.
Neo-totalitarian, Left-wing eco-extremists are banning new natural-gas access in scores of locales. If not reversed, this cruel, stupid, needless policy will kill Americans.
The Christmastime deep freeze that transformed much of the U.S. into the North Pole illustrates the deadly folly of forcing citizens to rely solely on an increasingly fragile electric grid (Plan A) while blocking natural gas as a secondary energy source (Plan B).
“The root cause of our grid’s reliability problems is simple,” explains Fossil Future author Alex Epstein. “America is shutting down too many reliable power plants” and replacing them with inconsistent solar and wind facilities.
Naturally, enviro-know-it-alls hate natural gas, a fossil fuel. To them, gas is like cyanide. So, they have cancelled pipelines into New England and scotched new residential and commercial hookups and gas appliances in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and at least 74 other cities.
Those with electricity and natural gas enjoy two kinds of energy — for heating, cooling, charging, etc.
If the gasophobes prevail, millions more Americans will have electricity but no natural gas. That’s cute — until an electrical outage occurs. And then … welcome to the 19th Century.
The Yuletide polar vortex saw temperatures plunge below zero from the Rockies to the Great Lakes. Coupled with power failure, this became a death sentence for Americans who froze in their unheated residences. At least nine New Yorkers in Erie County (Buffalo) suffered this miserable demise. Up to 146 Texans similarly perished in February 2021’s frigid, epic e-snafu.
Those cursed with Plan A similarly would be condemned by the Left to freeze and starve. Those with both choices could ignore their non-functioning electric appliances and either activate gas heaters to stay warm — and alive — or at least use their gas stoves to cook meals and boil pots of water to steam the chill away.
Gas pipelines also let those with Generac and similar generators enjoy heat, food, lights, laptops, stereos and HDTVs. The moment a disaster-driven or rolling shortage occurs, these gas-fueled generators kick in automatically.
Blackout? What blackout?
Gasophobia prevents Americans from capitalizing on this life-saving technology.
Here is yet another reason why anti-gas prohibitionism is so pig-headed: Saboteurs keep striking electric equipment.
Four Washington-state substations were hit on Dec. 25, menacing some 15,000 customers amid temperatures in the 30s and 40s. Oregon and Washington lately have endured six other anti-electric assaults.
Shooting attacks on two North Carolina facilities frosted 45,000 customers on Dec. 3. A rifleman likewise darkened two Utah counties in 2019. Gunmen fired at Silicon Valley transformers in 2013. Damage: $15 million.
Those with natural gas, and especially gas-based generators, more easily could survive such willful destruction. They would remain comfortable while their electricity-only neighbors shivered or sweated.
Leftist gasophobes would condemn Americans to ice and death rather than warmth and life, because of “climate.”
Well, “climate” means little to those who swelter in blackened homes or others who see their breath while huddled beneath five blankets. Still more will tremble in fear as they wonder what will happen if their CPAP gear or oxygen machines peter out.
Natural gas should please environmentalists who scream, “Climate!” more often than monks whisper, “Jesus.” Compared to coal, natural gas emits 45% less of the carbon dioxide that gasophobes loathe.
Alas, their hatred of the very CO2 that they exhale with every shouted slogan is an article of faith. So, such facts get steamrolled en route to their carbon-neutral nirvana. If people become icicles in their beds during electrical emergencies, who cares?
The cities and states that have enacted gas bans should repeal them, and Americans should be free to use electricity and natural gas. Maintaining primary and secondary energy sources is just common sense — something totally alien to neo-totalitarian Democrats.
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