Monday, November 15, 2004

Doing the NIMBY Shuffle
In the past 11 months that I've been blogging, I've devoted much space to the problem of reconciling our energy needs with the desires of communities to have all energy infrastructure built somewhere else. Receiving terminals for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) get particular attention, because--barring the opening of off-limits areas to drilling--they provide the best chance for expanded use of the most environmentally sound fuel available globally in large quantities. I can now take perverse pleasure in reporting that such a facility has been proposed for my back yard.

The Broadwater Energy LNG facility would consist of a floating storage and regasification plant in Long Island Sound, with a capacity of 1 billion cubic feet per day of gas (about 1.5% of US demand), roughly equidistant from Long Island and the Connecticut coastline. This project has already come in for criticism from both the New York and Connecticut sides of the Sound.

Broadwater is only one of many LNG plants that have been proposed and opposed around the country. The sites generally provide either access to existing gas pipeline infrastructure, or, as in the case of Broadwater, proximity to large gas markets. The Northeast was short of gas last winter, with significant amounts of LNG imported through the existing Cabot facility near Boston. But as the market grows, even more gas will be needed and sources of additional pipeline gas are scarce, even if more pipelines could be built.

Opponents of Broadwater need to understand very clearly that there is no magic solution if we want natural gas to be there when we want it. We will either need more gas from this country, or more imported gas. Without LNG or new pipelines, we will eventually face the choice between turning off power plants or cutting off gas deliveries to homes and businesses. That's a truly dismal prospect, and it is completely unnecessary, if we can finally stop approaching projects like Broadwater from a purely self-centered, parochial perspective.

That doesn't mean Broadwater should get a free pass on safety and the environment, but it is clear that no LNG facility imaginable could ever satisfy all the opposition we're seeing. Now, you can choose to believe in a world in which projects like this aren't needed because we will all wake up and become much more frugal with energy, but the consequences of that fantasy will inevitably be higher consumption of dirtier fuels--with more greenhouse gas emissions--because we insisted on impossible standards and avoided the real-world tradeoffs required to ensure an adequate supply of natural gas.

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