It only uses 46% of the ones it has, as summarized by N. J. Peress. This is underscored, with detailed analysis, by the Quadrennial Energy Review done by the U.S. Department of Energy, available at:
Mr Peress also remarks, importantly,
The typical lifespan of a natural gas pipeline is 50 years or more. Because they are so expensive to build, pipelines are financed over decades based on long-term contracts that must provide enough money to pay for the full cost of the new pipeline, plus a guaranteed profit for the pipeline owner. By locking in that demand, however, these massive investments lock out competition from cleaner, more efficient alternatives.
New pipelines, in other words, inherently create long-lasting incentives to keep burning fossil fuel. And often those incentives are legally binding because more often than not, ratepayers (i.e., the public) are on the hook for the costs.
How natural gas is bought and delivered also creates huge inefficiencies in the pipeline system that are responsible for today’s substantial underutilization, and which also work against renewables.
Flexibility is the defining characteristic of the developing lower carbon, lower cost energy grid. If gas is to be used to support renewables, pipelines (and power plants) must be able to accommodate loads that vary by the minute rather than the day. But pipelines typically schedule delivery of gas in steady volumes over the course of a 24-hour period.
But it’s worse than that: According an article (*) in the Westwood Press (for Westwood, MA), one Jake Navarro, spokesman for National Grid, a local electricity supplier, said:
We agree these prices are much too high. We don’t generate electricity. We buy it from the market. The market reflects an expectation of what may happen. It’s just how the market is pricing something.
But separately from Mr Navarro’s paen to the free market system, he also indicated that his utility company purchased six months of electricity at a fixed rate, which happened to be at an extraordinarily high price, as it turned out, compared to generation costs. That same supposedly cost conscious National Grid, along with the other local utility, Eversource (formerly NSTAR), have jumped on a local massive natural gas pipeline expansion which, according to the DOE Quandrennial Review, will assure local rates for natural gas are inflated to pay for a bunch of pipelines the area and the United States does not need, as well as locking in consumers and the Commonwealth to energy sources which are inefficient, and competing against wind and solar, thus depriving consumers of even cheaper energy rates.
Fossil fuel companies and utility companies know what’s coming and are trying to rig the game to remain as relevant as possible, on the backs of consumers who will not only pay for unnecessary energy infrastructure, but will then have to pay for abnormally rapid transition to zero carbon energy, pay for damages from consequences of climate change, including downed energy infrastructure, and probably have to pay off the energy utilities when they start going out of business.
The answer is for consumers to get off fossil fuels wherever and whenever they can, and be as efficient in their use of energy as possible. Local power sources like community solar should be encouraged and pursued, as well as smart microgrids. This will be affordable only by the relatively well-to-do, without help from the Commonwealth. (California is subsidizing such for low-income families.) But it will hurt the energy suppliers, using market forces as they should be used, and insulate consumers from this ridiculous and cynical manipulation of the energy market.
(*) G. Tuoti, “ELECTRICITY: Costs down, rates up — Disparity blamed on existing contracts”, Westwood Press, 5th June 2015, pages A1 and A7.