Guest column: SUN, WIND AND WATER – IT'S A GAS!

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By Dave Trecker

Pelican Bay

It’s hard not to sound Pollyannaish, but the energy picture in this country has never looked better.

There’s good news everywhere.

With oil and gas from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the U.S. is on track to overtake Russia this year as the leading energy producer in the world. That’s right. Energy independence is getting closer. And with it no more kowtowing to the Middle East. No more big trade deficits.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Tom Clark says, “The United States is more energy secure than it has been in decades.”

No less than card-carrying liberal Ann McFeatters said in a recent column, “America’s rapid technological advances in fracking are awesome.” Awesome indeed.

Even the Obama administration is on board. The president repeatedly points to energy gains on his watch. And while the Environmental Protection Agency clamps down on coal-fired power plants, its does so knowing coal will be replaced by natural gas.

There’s an interesting local sidebar. Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero) is introducing a bill in the Florida legislature to require disclosure of fracking activities. (There is no fracking in Florida at this time.)

Disclosures are fine, but they don’t deal with the real problem. If Rodrigues is serious, he should call for limits on methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Leakage during drilling can cause serious environmental harm.

Where do we stand on methane emissions? Things are looking up. The first peer-reviewed study at fracking sites (University of Texas) showed methane emissions to be 0.42% of natural gas production far less than the 6-12% estimated by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. And improvements in containing methane are being made every day.

What about renewables? There’s good news there as well.

The Wall Street Journal reports a surge of investments in hydroelectric power. Private money is flowing into small ventures for harnessing local waterfalls.

Hydroelectric now contributes 7 percent of U.S. electricity.

Wind farms continue to proliferate more so overseas than in this country. But even in the U.S., wind is the fastest-growing energy source, jumping 94 percent over the past three years.

But the biggest news is in solar. Increasingly, homeowners are installing solar panels on their roofs to cut utility bills. Forget about solar competing with coal or gas in energy grids. Home use offers free-market advantages. With the cost of panels dropping sharply, homeowners can save money by using solar when the sun shines and drawing from the power grid when it doesn’t. And you don’t even have to buy the panels. Leasing is now possible.

Solar use in California is so popular the state’s Public Utilities Commission is grappling with how to discount cost as a result of excess power from rooftops entering the grid. It’s a good problem to have.

Is there a take-home message here? Try this from the Wall Street Journal: “Gas and renewables are not rivals. They are complementary The two energy sources can grow together.”

Pollyanna again? Maybe. But that’s all right. There’s nothing wrong with a win-win outcome.

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