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The Electric Debate

It doesn’t matter if you own or rent your home — chances are you’ve been hit by some shocking electric bills in the past few years. Our energy crisis seems to have no end in sight, and more and more power companies are increasing their rates and struggling to keep up with the demand as we grow ever more dependent on the digital.

As electricity prices skyrocket, so does the interest in the alternative forms of energy that can be used to power homes. Many people have installed solar panels on their roofs, and in some states, like Iowa and South Dakota, 25% of their electricity is produced by wind power. Another increasingly viable option for people living in deregulated states is to turn to natural gas. Gas companies in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Nevada, to name a few, have been touting the benefits of using natural gas as one of the ways to power your home (and in some cases, your vehicle). Thanks to deregulation of the electricity market in these states (for a full list you can go here), you can use as much or as little natural gas as you’d like.

Generally speaking, natural gas is commonplace in the average American home for things like cooking and heating, however, there is a whole new school of homeowner who is exploring the possibility of using natural gas and compressed natural gas (CNG) to power the rest of their home as well. Natural gas not only comes with a financial benefit, but also significantly reduces your carbon footprint. Coal powered electric generation is responsible for roughly 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour, while a natural gas powered electric plant would emit half of that in the same time. With this information, and energy deregulation on their side, many homeowners are choosing energy providers who use natural gas as opposed to coal.

Natural gas is also being used to supplement other, renewable, sources of power like solar power. Last year the research team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory started conducting tests to see if using solar heat could magnify the power of natural gas, thus reducing the amount needed to perform the same functions, and reducing its carbon emissions.

Of course, there are those pioneer home owners who are completely forgoing the energy company and using natural gas to power their homes on their own, effectively taking themselves off the grid. A prime example of this is the home of Steve and Brenda Norwood in Houston, who created their home using a micro-trigeneration system. This system, developed by M-CoGen, uses a natural gas powered unit which then combines solar power from the home’s own solar panels, natural gas, electricity, and battery power. The unit has the capability to produce more energy than the couple uses, which would then allow them to sell it back to Reliant Energy as part of that company’s sell-back program.

With all the benefits of using natural gas, there are some setbacks and concerns about it, the primary one being fracking. Fracking is the process during which rock is fractured by a high pressured blast of liquid (usually comprised of various chemicals, sand, and water) in order to create cracks in the earth from which natural gas, brine, and petroleum can flow. Once the pressure is removed the sand and chemicals will prop the cracks open to keep the gas, petroleum, or brine flowing. The issue many people have with fracking is its negative impact on the environment. An article by Valerie J. Brown in Environmental Health Perspectives cites cases in Wyoming and Colorado where fracking resulting in contamination of citizens water as well as air quality, resulting in illness for the citizens in those areas. This is in spite of a 2004 report by the EPA that declared that the chances of fracking resulting in contamination of the air and water supply were very low.

It isn’t only contamination of our natural resources that has people concerned either, it’s the possibility that fracking is triggering seismic activity and earthquakes. In fact a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research showed that fracking had caused over 109 small earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio in a span of only 14 months, a shocking number especially when considering the town had no history of earthquakes ever in the past. Many fear that if fracking continues it could result in more frequent, and more intense earthquakes in places that simply aren’t prepared to withstand that kind of seismic activity.

The one thing that is clear in all of this is the need for more research, testing, and hopefully innovation. While natural gas is becoming an increasingly viable source of power, it’s not without its downfalls, just the same as the traditional coal. What we do know is that its reduction in carbon emissions is certainly a plus of using it, and opting to use natural gas generated electricity serves as a signal to power companies that they need to change to more environmentally friendly practices.

Written by Elizabeth Eckhart for Copyright © 2014 Realty Times All Rights Reserved.