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Curtis Jundt, Published March 15 2012

Your Opinion: Critic of reliable, affordable energy has it wrong, again

Joe Richardson – who promoted the ill-fated 20 percent wind mandate in Grand Forks and Fargo in 2006 – has once again shown his distaste for affordable and reliable power (March 9 – Forum letters to editor).

Richardson’s proposed solutions are to replace coal-fired power plants with wind and natural gas. It’s a concept that lacks economic and operational merit. Let’s first look at wind.

Inefficient wind

According to a 2011 paper written by Roger McEowen of Iowa State University, when electricity production from wind is compared to other generation sources, “wind energy production is incredibly inefficient. In addition, wind energy will do little to nothing to address the concerns that some have over ‘global warming’.” In the footnotes of the paper, the author notes that the variability of wind speeds and the fact the wind may blow too little or too much to generate electricity creates the need for other generation from back-up sources – logically, from a reliable fossil-fuel source.

Furthermore, the intermittency problem of wind generation causes more fossil fuels to be burned because fossil-fueled generation sources can’t operate as efficiently when they are being started, stopped, accelerated and decelerated to follow wind, instead of operating at a steady pace and they consume fuel when operating simply in “stand-by” mode waiting to supplement wind generation variability.

Natural gas?

As for using vast amounts of natural gas to replace coal as a generation source, let me quote from a 2008 U.S. Department of Energy white paper, “Natural Gas and Electricity Costs and Impacts on Industry.” The summary reads in part:

“High natural gas prices hurt all natural gas consumers, especially households and natural gas-intensive industry, with recent prices three to four times higher than a decade ago. The trade-exposed industry has been hurt the most. Regions of the country dependent on natural gas-fired generation have experienced large increases in the cost of power. Coal-fired generation has restrained the price of electricity and has constrained the price of natural gas from matching the rise in the price of oil.”

So while natural gas prices in 2012 are low due to increased drilling and a mild winter, there is no guarantee for the future. Historically, natural gas prices have been volatile and will continue to be so given the many uses of this premium fuel. Relying on natural gas as a primary power generation source means that when natural gas prices rise, and they will – guaranteed – consumers and the industry will see an immediate increase to power costs, heating costs, processing and manufacturing costs and food costs.

Coal is steady

You will not be able to find a more price steady fossil fuel than coal when compared to other fossil fuels. What coal is doing for America’s economic growth and its goal to achieve energy security is underestimated and misrepresented by those who want to paint it unjustifiably dirty, when in reality the coal industry exceeds ALL others in its progress of the past 30 years to minimize its environmental footprint. But to those like Richardson, it will never be enough.

North Dakota is a treasure trove of energy resources – including coal, oil, natural gas and wind. The point to be made is, our policy makers – including President Barack Obama – need to seriously understand the nature of energy and how all resources are going to be needed in the future if our nation is to reduce its reliance on foreign energy and often hostile nations.

The reduction in investments that should be made today in clean coal technology by this administration is short-sighted as this president continues to pick winners and losers. Let’s stop the crucifixion of our coal industry at the expense of our future – Economically achieving energy security.

Jundt is president, Envision Natural Resources Group, Inc., Bismarck.