By Richard Shingles
Shingles, of Newport, is associate professor of political science emeritus at Virginia Tech and coordinator of Preserve Giles County.
Opponents of renewable energy, and even some self-proclaimed proponents, too frequently see it as at variance with economic development. This is a false dichotomy. An environmental policy of weaning Americans off fossil fuels is imperative for sustaining existing industries and developing new ones.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s advocacy of both “going green” and economic development would appear to avoid this fallacy. Yet he touts the economic advantages of the Mountain Valley Pipeline as promising jobs and “cheap gas,” while dismissing the environmental concerns of citizens — as if there were some kind of tension between sustaining our way of life and economic growth. There is none. Here is why.
First, the MVP is all pain and no gain for Virginia. It would create only 25 permanent jobs to monitor the pipeline after it is built by a mostly out-of-state, specialized workforce. The pipeline would not spur economic development. All or most of its product would go directly into the Transco system to replace gas currently shipped from the Gulf Coast, freeing up production there for export (MVP Resource Report 1, pages 1-6).
Virginia should not, and will not, need to rely on either the Gulf or MVP.
MVP is superfluous, even for the gas industry. There is sufficient capacity among existing interstate pipelines to supply regional and national energy needs (Natural Gas Infrastructure: Implications of Increased Demand from the Electric Power Sector, DOE Feb. 2015). The industry has been rapidly modifying its systems to create bi-directional flow, allowing multiple trunk lines that previously moved gas solely from the Gulf to the Northeast, to ship it back from the Marcellus (“32% of natural gas pipeline capacity in the Northeast could be bi-directional by 2017,” EIA Dec. 2, 2014).
The capacity of the MVP, 2.0 billion cubic feet (bcf) per day, is dwarfed by two of these bi-directional trunk lines, Tennessee Gas (6.7 bcf,) and Columbia Gas (9.4 bcf) that already serve Southwestern Virginia, including Roanoke Gas. MVP has neither their capacity nor their demand. It has named only one local distribution company in Virginia with which it has secured a contract, Roanoke Gas. Why would that company need a third supplier?
Second, it is a mistaken belief that interstate gas pipelines in general will provide inexpensive energy to fuel Virginia’s economy. The assumption that shale gas will be cheap and abundant for the foreseeable future is grossly exaggerated (Drilling Deeper, Post Carbon Institute, 2015).
Marcellus production will peak in 2018 (about the time that the MVP would come on line in Virginia), as rigs exhaust sweet spots and drill in increasingly poorer quality rock, driving up production costs.
Assuming that financing is available (at an estimated cost of $1 trillion nationally) for increasingly less efficient drilling to drain the Marcellus, the cost of shale gas will soar at the same time that prices of renewable energies plunge. Exporting U.S. gas to a world market will heighten that disparity. In contrast, locally produced renewable fuels are not subject to world markets. Solar and wind currently are as competitive or cheaper than gas in many parts of the world and will be fully competitive in the U.S. by 2019. If Virginia were to become a leader in the renewable energy revolution, that would be a far greater economic stimulus (http://www.ceres.org/press/press-releases/major-u.s.-banks-call-for-leadership-in-addressing-climate-change).
Finally, there is no surer way to sabotage Virginia’s economic future than rushing to exploit every last drop of our nation’s oil and gas. If we do nothing to wean ourselves off fossil fuels quickly, global warming and climate disruption will ruin Virginia businesses and entire industries: Acidification of oceans will sicken shellfish and threaten the oyster and crab industries in the Chesapeake Bay; rising seas will inundate the low lying metro areas of D.C., Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach and Norfolk, causing hundreds of billions of dollars of damage to infrastructure and businesses; increasingly severe Atlantic storms will push saltwater up rivers into wetlands and freshwater aquifers, extinguishing more species; rising temperatures accompanied by invasive plants and insects, disease and drought will lead to the rapid die-off of Virginia’s forest beginning around midcentury and cause the loss of many more species and the industries that rely on them (Virginia Climate Fever: How global warming will transform our cities, shorelines and forests by Stephen Nash, 2014).
This should be an easy decision. Renewable energy is the key to both the preservation of our environment and the economic development of Virginia.