On April 2, Keith O. Rattie, CEO of Questar Corporation, gave a speech to students at Utah Valley University about global warming and U.S. energy policy. The parts of the speech about global warming seek to raise questions about the science behind conclusions of the global warming trend. The most interesting parts of the speech, to me, concern U.S. energy policy.
Points made by Mr. Rattie:
- The stated U.S. energy policy goal is for an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 – “80 by 50.” Rattie says that this goal is unattainable. According to him, the U.S. carbon footprint is about 20 tons per person per year. An 80 percent reduction would require that footprint to be reduced to 4 tons per person per year by 2050. But that does not take into account population growth. If projections for population increases in the U.S. are taken into account, 80-by-50 would require that the U.S. reduce its carbon emissions to 2 tons per person per year – a 90 percent reduction in per capita carbon footprint.
- U.S. energy use has been growing at the rate of 1.5 percent per year. The world’s demand for energy is expected to grow by 30 to 50 percent over the next two decades. “Simply put, America and the rest of the world will need all the energy that markets can deliver. We’re going to need it all – oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels.”
- “There are no near-term alternatives to oil, natural gas and coal.” Wind and solar power account for only 1/6th of one percent of U.S. annual energy consumption. The Obama administration has set a goal to double wind and solar energy generation by the end of his first term – to 1/3rd of one percent. “To generate electricity comparable to a 1,000-megawatt gas-fired power plant you’d have to build a wind farm with at least 500 very tall windmills occupying 40,000 acres of land.” The largest U.S. solar electricity plant today has a capacity of 8.2 megawatts. It would take roughly 250 of these plants, occupying 20,000 acres, to replace one 1,000-megawatt gas-fired plant.
- If the U.S. had signed the Kyoto treaty in 1997 and committed to reduce manmade CO2 emissions to seven percent below its 1990 level, it would have had to reduce its emissions by about 1.2 billion tons per year, to 4.6 billion tons. By 2005, U.S. man-made CO2 emissions had increased to about 5.8 billion tons. So Kyoto would have required the U.S. to reduce its emissions in 2005 from 5.8 billion tons to 4.6 billion tons – a reduction of about 1.2 billion tons per year. In 2005 U.S. gasoline consumption generated about 1.1 billion tons of CO2. Coal plants in the U.S. generated about 2 billion tons of CO2 in 2005.
- U.S. onshore natural gas production has increased by more than 20 percent in the past three years. Known U.S. natural gas resources now exceed 100 years of supply at current U.S. rates of consumption.
- The U.S. has about one million megawatts of installed electric generation capacity – 40 percent of that capacity is built to run on natural gas, and 31 percent is built to burn coal. But coal plants run at an average load factor of about 75 percent, whereas natural gas-fired power plants operate with an average load factor of less than 25 percent. Because natural gas combustion emits less CO2 than coal, the U.S. could cut carbon emissions by increasing the amount of electricity generated from natural gas simply by increasing the load factor on gas-fired power plants, without building any more plants.
- Other ways to reduce CO2 emissions: (1) improve energy efficiency. Stop wasting energy and start conserving. (2) “Rethink our irrational fear of nuclear power.” (3) “Substitute low-carbon natural gas for higher-carbon coal and oil.” (4) Invest in development of carbon sequestration technology to burn “clean” coal.
Food for thought.