Letter to the editor: The fight for clean energy

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Behind every energy policy decision is a struggle between fossil fuels dependent providers who wish to ignore the negative impacts those fuels have and people working to undo the damage they’ve done by introducing more hydro, nuclear, solar, and wind generated energy. That said it’s often unclear who is who these days because advertisers and scientists working for the fossil fuels industry continue to add disinformation to the equation. And they do this in a sophisticated manner so as to string along people and organizations who mean well but aren’t knowledgeable enough to conduct the research that is often necessary to distinguish propaganda from truth.

The “carbon footprint” is a perfect example of this. It was introduced by British Petroleum in 2005 as it was attempting to rebrand. They’d become known as an environmentally conscious energy provider by promoting this concept and highlighting the research in biofuels they funded. This was meant to draw attention away from the responsibility they held for promoting the belief that fossil fuels emissions had not caused global warming. About 2% of their budget was dedicated to this campaign, the rest went into new acquisitions. While asking you and I to consider our “Carbon Footprint” British Petroleum expanded theirs by increasing their holdings of fossil fuels reservoirs by 20%.

The fossil fuels industry is not interested in reducing its dependence on those fuels. If anything they’d like expand that while convincing you that they’re working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s precisely why several members of the industry and advocates poured roughly $40 million into the effort that was designed to convince us that the New England Clean Energy Connect would do more damage than good. They were protecting their place in that energy market and paving the way for expansion at the same time. That’s why we’re already hearing calls for another natural gas pipeline in Maine.

To be clear, natural gas is almost entirely methane (CH4). As was said during the debate over the NECEC, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). In fact CH4 is 85 times more potent than CO2 over the 20-year period it typically remains in the atmosphere. According to research, 2% to 10% of the natural gas that is extracted from the earth escapes into our atmosphere before it can be utilized. And when even the lowest estimate of loss is assumed climate models show that the natural gas fields now permitted would warm the earth more than all the fossil fuels we’ve used to date have.

What we’re witnessing is an all out battle for energy dominance. We’re most likely being asked to consider the use of heating oil in Maine right now because those working to build support for a natural gas pipeline want you to believe it’s the better option. They will argue that it’s cleaner because that’s pretty easy to do on the surface. Oil is clearly darker and coats our chimneys in a fine dark soot. We’ve all seen that. But, natural gas is polluting our atmosphere with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulates though you can’t see them. And, given the potency of methane, it’s hard to argue the environmental impact is any better than burning oil.

Those are the facts as the investigative reporters and scientists studying the topic see them. That is if we compile all available data on this topic, as an intelligence officer would compile it before briefing senior defense officials, this is the picture it would paint. You might think that comparison strange but I think it’s fitting because the fossil fuels industry is knowingly deploying propaganda in what is essentially a counter-intelligence campaign designed to undermine the work our scientists are promoting to protect us. Years ago we talked about holding them accountable for this as the tobacco industry was. I’m not quite sure why we haven’t given the impact to economy, environment, and health.

The NECEC remains an option, even if it was defeated once. It was approved several times before that happened because the hydroelectric facilities it was to connect to our grid would serve as a battery so we weren’t required to maintain generation capacity that relies on fossil fuels when solar and wind aren’t producing. That’s the purpose it was meant to serve. A grid powered by solar and wind isn’t complete without storage capacity. And traditional batteries don’t fit the bill because they’re not environmentally friendly. In fact, only about 3% of those batteries currently used for this purpose are recycled. So both mining and waste batteries contribute to their environmental impact.

There’s the notion that hydroelectric facilities produce methane. While true of some facilities in tropical climates where the shorelines of reservoirs are heavily vegetated, this is not true of those located in our part of the world. We simply don’t see enough vegetation growth along the shorelines of reservoirs here to produce a substantial amount of methane. That’s been confirmed over and over again for decades by those scientists who have directly studied the emissions generated by hydroelectric reservoirs here in our climate setting. The suggestion that they do generate more was based on the mistaken application of research done in other settings.

Jamie Beaulieu
Farmington, Maine

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