We all hate natural gas? Not so fast, say energy experts — with facts and figures

Panelists at NJUA event discuss how vast majority of people like natural gas — and how gas works into clean-energy future

We interrupt a seemingly steady stream of news about how states are rushing to mandate electrification — and ban natural gas — to present perhaps a more realistic (and honest) view of the moment.

Yes, it comes from Dan Lapato, a vice president with the American Gas Association, but it also comes with some facts and figures that may surprise those who actually do want to take away your gas stove.

Lapato, speaking on a panel about “balancing the energy equation” at the recent New Jersey Utilities Association convention, said studies show 76% of people still see gas favorably — and still want gas in their homes.

Even more, Lapato said 24 states have passed legislation that ensures energy choices (these have been bipartisan bills, he said) and that the number of municipalities that actually have banned gas is well under 1%.

That’s not to say energy companies — and energy policy — don’t need to change, as much as it is to say that gas needs to play a big role in the transformation of energy delivery, especially in New Jersey, where more than three in four homes currently use gas, the fourth-highest penetration in the country.

“The conversation should be (about) using our resources more effectively, looking at how we deliver energy and looking at the energy we deliver,” Lapato said.

Fellow panelists Melissa Orsen, president of South Jersey Industries, and Pat Migliaccio, president of New Jersey Natural Gas, agreed.

They said talk about gas should include the massive amount of infrastructure that’s already in the state — and underground — not to mention the ability of these pipes to serve as energy storage and a conduit for renewables.

Most of all, Orsen said gas utilities should continue to be part of the conversation when it comes to the latest update of the state’s Energy Master Plan.

“We’re very much looking forward to having a seat at that table and a voice in a realistic, reasonable outcome,” she said. “We support the goals that are that the governor has iterated at a very high level, and we believe that our utility can help get there, provided that we have a seat at that table.”

Migliaccio said those conversations need to acknowledge the role gas has played, and will continue to play, during the toughest energy times.

For instance, when tropical storm Isaias reached New Jersey in August 2020, natural gas played a key role in the state, he said. New Jersey Natural Gas nearly doubled the amount of gas it sent out as customers raced to generators for power, he said.

“If we think about the infrastructure of the state of New Jersey, electric infrastructure is above ground — that’s just a fact,” he said. “And, if we think about climate change, the expectation of more severe or frequent storms should be back of mind for us.

“I think that the reliability and resilience of the dual energy system is something that we don’t want to lose.”

Lapato said that is why the gas association is eager to steer the conversation around gas away from acrimony and toward harmony.

“What we’ve been trying to do is move away from this us versus them or people hate gas/people like gas,” he said. “What we’ve been trying to do is talk about where, as an industry, we’ve come from, but, more importantly, where we’re going — and how that fits into these goals (and) aspirational issues.”

The industry, Lapato said, wants to talk about “how we can better dovetail our relationships, not just within climate initiatives, but within renewable energy deployment, and how that synergy begins to work,” he said.

Doing so will take much-needed trust, according to Diane Solomon, who was in her final days as a commissioner with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities at the time of the event.

“There should be more opportunities for interaction with everyone at the table,” she said. “Policymakers need to have real conversations to move these agendas forward.”