By Ted Glick
The changing of the seasons has definitely been disrupted by global heating, but it’s still the case, in general, that in the last month of a season there are a few days that are like the season that’s coming. For example, in the first few weeks of March there’ll be days where temperatures are spring-like, for example, and that’s always a good day.
We who get it on the climate crisis got something like this recently when it comes to the essential, urgently-needed shift from fossil fuels (think winter) to renewables (think spring). What happened?
In the first quarter of 2018, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), approximately 2% of the new electrical generation capacity (power plants) came from natural gas, while 94% of it came from wind and solar (see page 4 here),
This compares to the first quarter of 2017, when approximately 33% came from natural gas, 61% from wind and solar.
Why such a huge change in one year, Donald Trump’s first full year as President? I’ve looked, and I haven’t come across anything which explains this unprecedentedly positive development.
My educated guess is that it was primarily because FERC was without a quorum for seven months last year, which meant that no new permits for interstate gas pipelines or infrastructure were approved.
Since new gas plants need pipelines to bring them the gas, mainly fracked gas these days, and if they were not being approved for much of last year, it makes sense that FERC’s situation is the main reason.
In addition, I’m sure it’s also due to the nonviolent army of gas pipeline resisters who are all over the place slowing down, disrupting, sometimes winning, legally and otherwise, in the scores of battles to prevent new gas infrastructure from being built. The courts are starting to make rulings that hurt the gas industry, no question about it.
With FERC now back to having its usual five commissioners, they’ve been rubber-stamping gas pipelines and infrastructure, and so we can’t expect the ratio between new gas power plants and new wind and solar power plants to be so lopsided going forward. Joe Romm, in a Thinkprogress article two weeks ago, reported that: “Of the nearly 212,000 MW of new net generating capacity — additions minus retirements — proposed by March 2021 [according to FERC], renewables comprise almost 147,000 MW, or 69 percent of the total.”
69% is not 94%, but it’s still an indication of definite trends that are not going to be reversed. And that 31% non-renewable, new power generation is what is proposed. I am certain that some of those proposed plants will either not be built, will have a hard time getting approval or approval of needed new pipelines, or will be delayed, because the power of the people in resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure buildout continues to build.
And that resistance isn’t just in the streets or on land threatened with eminent domain. A few days ago it was reported that the California Public Utilities Commission is planning on “denying San Diego Gas & Electric Company and Southern California Gas Company’s planned $2 billion dirty gas pipeline. The proposed decision concludes that the utilities ‘... have not shown why it is necessary to build a very costly pipeline to substantially increase gas pipeline capacity in an era of declining demand and at a time when the state of California is moving away from fossil fuels.’”
FERC continues to be a huge factor, and we as a movement should act accordingly. There’s an opportunity to do so at the end of June when there will be a “Crack FERC Open” mobilization June 23-25, initiated by Beyond Extreme Energy and endorsed so far by 32 organizations.
There are cracks emerging in the formerly-unified-front in support of fossil fuels at FERC. The five FERC Commissioners, four of them new, voted unanimously in January to reject DOE Secretary Rick Perry’s push to further subsidize coal and nukes. They voted, because of a court decision, to end a substantial tax break for pipeline companies. New Democratic commissioner Richard Glick has issued several strong dissents on pipeline permit applications, and there have been other dissents too. These can greatly help court challenges.
It doesn’t feel like it most of the time, but we really are winning. Time is against us, and there’s a lot of human and ecological damage we aren’t going to be able to prevent, but in the struggle for a just, democratic, fossil fuel-free world, there is very real hope. Let’s hold on and keep fighting.