Power-starved Africa is rejecting expensive wind and solar power, relying instead on affordable coal power to lift the continent out of energy poverty, the Washington Times points out in a very interesting article. The article unintentionally illustrates why the environmental left should abandon its “only wind and solar” approach and support natural gas power.
The Times notes how nations like Tanzania, where 85 percent of its 52 million people don’t have access to an electrical grid, give little thought to the environmental arguments for or against certain power sources when their primary concern is to bring life-changing electricity – from any source – to their countries’ people. Wind and solar power are expensive. Wind and solar power are useless on cloudy days, at night, and when there isn’t a strong breeze. There are no environmental arguments that outweigh the life-changing benefits of affordable, reliable electricity.
Fifteen years ago, before advances in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and directional drilling technologies brought about a revolution in natural gas production and affordability, coal would have no competition powering the Third World. Now, however, American energy companies can produce vast quantities of natural gas efficiently enough to produce power at lower cost than coal power.
Natural gas cuts most emissions of carbon dioxide and most traditionally defined air pollutants by 50 to 90 percent versus coal power. With wind and solar power off the table as realistic options in Africa and elsewhere, it stands to reason that the environmental left would celebrate natural gas a means to make significant environmental progress across the globe.
The issue is particularly important here in the United States. American energy companies have much greater knowledge, experience, and efficiency regarding fracking and directional drilling technologies. We also have natural gas resources that are relatively easy to access compared to many other countries. As a result, Russia may lead the world in natural gas exports, but Russian natural gas is twice as expensive as American natural gas. American natural gas can compete economically with Third World coal power, but foreign natural gas cannot.
There is currently only one operational natural gas export terminal in the United States, which limits our ability to sell natural gas to Third World nations that desperately need affordable, reliable power. As a result, they continue to choose coal power over natural gas and other power sources.
Ironically, environmental opposition is the reason we have only one natural gas export facility in the United States. At the local, state, and federal level, the environmental left has pushed the propaganda that wind and solar power are the only acceptable power sources. This has led to bicoastal blue states blocking the construction of natural gas export terminals. When left-leaning local and state governments have been unsuccessful blocking the construction of export terminals, the federal government has stepped in and blocked the construction of export terminals.
Natural gas is a much more environmentally friendly power source than coal, and it is also a much greener power source than wind power. Economically, China produces four times as much coal as the United States. Australia, Indonesia, and Russia cumulatively export 10 times as much coal as the United States. Removing political obstacles to natural gas export facilities will not only bring substantial environmental benefits to Third World nations, it will also bring enormous benefits to the American economy. Inexpensive American natural gas can outcompete the coal that Third World nations are importing from other nations.
Africa is rejecting the renewable power pipe dream. Rather than wishing it way, true environmentalists should embrace more American natural gas exports. The alternative is a world increasingly dependent on foreign-supplied coal.