A natural gas pipeline runs through my neighborhood in Western New York. The only reason I know that is because, curious about the orange markers sticking out of the ground at a golf course we sometimes play at, I decided to check them out. There’s no obtrusive pipe sticking out of the ground. The same will be true of the pipeline that Vermont Gas would like to build through the state; it will be buried between three to five feet under the surface.
This is the type of project that is incredibly easy to oppose without an actual stake in the matter. As students we stand little to benefit from access to natural gas. But that does not mean we cannot understand the perspective of Vermont homeowners and business owners who see this pipeline as a way to both save money and use cleaner fuel.
As with energy issue, this pipeline is not as simple as benefit and cost in a vacuum. We also have to consider the currently available alternatives. It is not as though, denied access to this natural gas, people will instantly elect to put solar panels on their roofs. Those are still an expensive investment, they can only produce electricity when the sun shines, and Vermont winters are cold and dark. Instead, the thousands of people who would be affected by this project currently heat their homes and businesses by burning dirty fuel oil or expensive propane, the former of which emits 25 percent more carbon dioxide than natural gas. Both of these have to be delivered by truck, increasing the risk of an accident that leads to a spill or leak, and burning oil in the process of delivery.
Natural gas would produce significantly fewer emissions at a significantly lower cost, saving homeowners somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 dollars per year, a nontrivial amount in this era of economic stagnation. The savings would be even more for the types of businesses that Vermont critically needs to attract or maintain in order to keep the state’s population from melting away to warmer pastures. All told, the project is estimated to save Addison County residents and businesses ten million dollars annually.
I’m troubled by the lack of depth, balance or practicality that the dialogue about this pipeline on campus has shown. The Campus’ own article on the matter, two weeks ago, featured nine quotes by one student activist who opposes the pipeline – along with any other feature of a capitalist economy – one quote from another student critic, and only a press release to speak for the other side. The repeated opposition to these types of projects has taken on the tenor of a particularly loud religion; the only type of religion truly accepted on this campus. But this is more than a symbol to latch on to. It is a real issue that will have real financial consequences for people. Every time environmentalists wrap our arms around an issue makes us look indifferent to the concerns of people trying to get a job or pay their bills, we get further away from the type of national consensus that we need for concrete action to fight climate change.
We will never solve climate change by being against every type of energy development. Cleaner, cheaper energy is a good thing – the true difference between civilization and cave-dwelling. The way to motivate a shift to renewable energy technologies is to make them cheaper through continued innovation, economies of scale and, if necessary, government support. The activists who oppose this project in so-called solidarity with average people are ignoring the regressive short-term results if they prevail: higher heating and energy costs for working people.
Raising the price of energy is one of the surest ways to disproportionately tax poor and middle class families who are unable to invest in home upgrades or otherwise shift their consumption patterns during high price periods. Lowering the price of energy – by providing tax credits and feed in tariffs for renewables while, yes, making natural gas available – is one of the surest ways to stimulate the economy. If it has the side effect of reducing carbon emissions, as this project will, that’s even better. The benefits of this project far and away exceed the costs.