Published in the Colorado Sun on March 10th, 2022
In their op-ed titled “Natural gas should remain a key option in Colorado’s clean-energy mix,” the authors would have us believe that, long-term, natural gas should be part of the mix for our state’s goals for ending the use of fossil fuels.
Let’s be clear: When we have ended the use of fossil fuels, natural gas must be just another old, discarded technology, replaced by newer, clean electricity. Natural gas is not clean, nor should it remain part of our energy mix.
First, natural gas, when it leaks (it is a leaky substance), sends methane — a prime precursor in ozone pollution — into the atmosphere. Ozone shortens people’s lives, causes breathing problems, and low birth weight.
Then, natural gas is a one-two punch of global warming gases. One: As methane it warms the atmosphere 84-86 times faster than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Two: When we burn natural gas, it emits carbon dioxide, the global warming gas that lasts for centuries.
The accumulations of global warming gases from our seemingly small contributions add up. They threaten our Colorado water resources, our ski slopes, our visible sky during fire seasons, and more. If we let it go, the resulting climate chaos will wreck crop yields and cripple the widespread civilization our families enjoy.
Natural gas is convenient, it works when we need it, but it is environmental poison. We can’t continue to use it, especially when we have good alternatives.
Evolved Energy, Gridlab, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club comprehensively reported on what it will take to meet our state’s climate goals. On the subject of buildings, both residential and commercial, they say this:
One pathway to meeting the climate goals would require at least 55 percent of new homes to be all electric by 2025 and all new homes to be all electric by 2030 or soon thereafter. In this scenario, 2 to 3 percent of non-electric space heaters and 4 to 5 percent of non-electric water heaters in existing homes must be replaced with electric heat pumps each year [emphasis added].
Commercial buildings must follow a similar trajectory… Transformative electrification of stocks of space heaters and water heaters will take time, and the state must accelerate adoption immediately.
This necessity to replace equipment means that we ought to look at our stock of gas appliances as old, dirty, and temporary.
We can’t afford to change everything out at once. But given that the Front Range has a terrible ozone problem, and given that the climate has already changed and we throughout the state have tasted the smoke filling our lungs, we should eagerly adopt new technologies that allow us to lead better lives.
For individuals, we at Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate urge readers of means to plan to replace their gas stoves, dryers, water heaters, and furnaces with electric. It may sometimes cost more upfront, but spending now to halt the advance of climate change will be less expensive than repairing the consequences of just letting it go. As more people adopt, costs will decrease, allowing for more people, including people with lesser means, to also adopt.
We also ask developers to simply stop laying gas lines to new construction. The cheapest way to convert to electric is to start with electric.
On a community level, we call upon local governments to change their building codes to ban the installation of new natural-gas burning appliances. We ask the state to set a date, as soon as practicable, to outlaw the sale of natural gas appliances.
And we ask each person to acknowledge that we are indeed in a crisis. With this acknowledgement, we ask the taxpayers to fund the transition to electric appliances for those who cannot afford to do so on their own.
The folks of the fossil fuel industry would have us delay, in part, we assume, to maintain their profits for as long as possible. But Colorado’s climate has changed now. It is causing pain now. And will only get terribly worse if we let it go. We need to act now.
Jeff Neuman-Lee, of Denver, is Legislative Team co-chair for Together Colorado‘s Climate Justice Committee.