Posts Tagged ‘natural gas’

Breaking the dependence on oil

November 15, 2011

Maine Governor Paul LePage has recently called for a 50% reduction in the use of oil for heating in the state.   Maine is a heavy user when it comes to heating oil.  80% of our homes here are oil heated.  To cut that useage in half by 2014 is an ambitious goal, for sure.  LePage suggests doing this by switching to natural gas and wood pellets. 

There are efforts to move towards natural gas in the state, and I encourage it.  It won’t be fast, however.  While the distribution system is slowly growing, it is not there now.  As for pellets, they are readily available, but if demand for them increases so might cost.   Furthermore, most residential wood burning systems require the user to be hands on.  The pellets don’t fill the stove themselves, and the ashes don’t empty themselves.   This is the same reason why 80% heat with oil instead of wood, also abundant in the Pine Tree state.

What is missing in this discussion is our dependence on BTU’s.  In other words, the focus should be on energy use, first, not fuel source.   Switching fuels doesn’t solve the problem of inefficient leaky homes heating the great outdoors.  It’s like an addict going from one fix to another because it’s cheaper, and they can get more for less.   Fuel switching is treating the symptom and not the problem. 

Weatherization efforts, increased efficiencies of heating equipment, and fuel switching when it makes sense, can have a much greater impact, and a much lower long term cost, than fuel switching alone. Efficiency Maine and the many contractors who have worked with these programs have been chipping away at this.  Tux Turkel from the Maine Sunday telegram reported recently, “Maine residents slashed their heating oil use by 45% between 2004 and 2009.”  We routinely save people that much off of their oil bills.  Governor, we can do this, but let’s treat the real problem and break our dependence on wasteful heating.   

Photo by David L Ryan

Natural gas prices climb

March 23, 2011

The extended colder weather has pushed up natural gas prices—reflecting price rises we’re seeing at the gas pumps.  With some electricity generation shifting toward natural gas, we’ll continue to have demand pressure, even as more supplies are found.  Add to that, the fact that the pipes are only so big, and we can only squeeze so much natural gas through them.  This is part of the reason we saw natural gas shortages in several states this winter.  And it’s not going away.  Even with more supply of energy—gas, electricity, oil—we would still have an expensive distribution problem.  New electric lines, and bigger gas pipelines aren’t free.  The cost gets reflected in the energy bills we pay.  However, by increasing efficiency, we help solve both the supply and the distribution question.  Individually and collectively, we decide where our money gets spent.  To me, it just doesn’t make sense to burn it when there are so many other things we could be doing!  And that’s why energy-efficiency makes sense.  And cents.  And lots and lots of dollars.


Pickens criticizes API report

January 5, 2011

As reported by Rod Walton in Tulsa World, T. Boone Pickens, criticized the latest energy report by the America Petroleum Institute (API).  

“No one should be fooled by this report or surprised by its focus,” Pickens said in a statement after API President and CEO Jack Gerard’s address at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. “This is, after all, a group that includes and represents foreign oil companies, interests and holdings.

“The API ignores the fact that you cannot address the national security and economic threat of OPEC dependency without focusing on transportation; that accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. oil use.”

One things for certain–we really don’t have a cohesive energy policy in this country.  Here’s hoping for change in 2011?


Speaking of natural gas, the “fracking” debate heats up. Where is efficiency in the conversation?

September 14, 2010

As reported in the Christian Science Monitor, the debate over hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, is a hot one, coming to a head at EPA hearings in New York.  The article is worth a read, and points again to a broarder issue.  There is no free lunch when it comes to energy.  And generating electricity or heating our homes come at a real cost.  Some we pay directly on our utility bills.  Others we pay indirectly, on on tax bill, with government subsidies, tax breaks and such, and with increased costs in other arenas such as reduced water quality and other environmental damage that we wind up footing the bill for later.

And yet our energy policy and our energy practices pay way too little attention to energy efficiency.  The McKinsey report indicated that investing in efficiency could SAVE the country half a trillion dollars.  Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute have been banging the drum for years (and saving some of their corporate clients millions in energy costs).  Linc Services is saving Massanutten Academy almost $7 million.  And we know our customers have been saving a lot in homes.  But it’s time a lot more people got on board with the common sense approach of energy efficiency first.  As we make reduce our energy needs, solving the energy problem gets a lot easier.


Can natural gas leaks kill you?

September 13, 2010

Because of the spike in inquires in the wake of the massive California natural gas explosions, I’m reposting an article from last year.  If you read no further, carry this away:  take gas leaks seriously.

We had a few searches hit our website with people asking if natural gas leaks can kill you.  YES, THEY CAN.   They should be taken very seriously.  The big risk is fire or explosion–enough to lose your home and injure or kill everyone in it.  [Google “gas leak house fire” for recent examples, beyond the California disaster.]

If you smell gas, it’s a bad leak and should be fixed.  Note that propone can be even more problematic since it’s heavier than air and can settle and collect in low spots like basements.  If you notice a faint smell of gas, call the gas company or a qualified contractor immediately.  If you notice a strong smell of gas, get out of the house immediately and then call the gas company from a safe location.  You may not be able to detect leaks be smell, however, and you should have your lines tested for leaks periodically–we suggest doing so along with your regular furnace maintenance.

This is not an alarmist plea to panic about using gas.  It’s what I use to heat my home, and it’s how most homes in the U.S. are heated.  It has great advantages as a heating fuel.  I much prefer it to oil, which is dirtier, smellier, and fouls equipment faster.  It also allows for much more efficient equipment.  But gas must be used safely, and leaks should be taken seriously.

That’s why you should have your home tested for gas leaks and combustion safety issues (such as proper drafting of fuel-burning appliances and carbon monoxide spillage).  This is particulary true if you’re changing your house–remodeling, adding windows, insulating and air-sealing, etc since you not only have the risk of bumping pipe and loosening joints, but you also change to dynamics of how the house operates.

Take gas leaks seriously.  And insist that anyone working in your house take them seriously, too. 


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