By Kevin Henning
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, January 14, 2023
To combat climate change we must reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. There are market-based solutions which could help us do the job. I have tremendous admiration for the late Senator John McCain. He was a true American hero, statesman, and a champion of the climate movement. He was famous for educating Congress about the perils of global warming, showing pictures in the Senate chamber of shrinking arctic ice. He proposed using market dynamics to address climate change by promoting cap and trade legislation. This solution was viewed as a conservative alternative to a carbon tax which would hurt those who could least afford increased energy prices. Cap and trade is a proven concept and was effective in reducing acid rain causing sulfur dioxide emissions. It is a process where a cap is set on emissions and polluters who invest to lower their pollution below the cap can sell allowances to other emitters. Cap and trade for carbon dioxide pollution has fallen out of favor due to politics but other ideas have emerged.
Another market-based program has been proposed by the non-partisan Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL). If you put a price on carbon, the cost of energy produced with fossil fuels is increased. The CCL program, which is referred to as “carbon fee with dividend,” would put a fee on fossil fuels providing an incentive to switch to less polluting energy. To cushion the burden of the transition to clean energy the fee then would be returned low- and middle-income households. CCL makes the case that its approach “will transform our economy and lead to millions of new jobs across the country.”
Implementing cap and trade or a carbon fee would drive innovation to stop the Earth’s temperature rise. One area of innovation that would complement Texas’ oil and gas industry is geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is often overlooked as a component for addressing climate change. In simple terms it is heat energy from the earth and could be a significant component of our national and local energy mix. It is sustainable, environmentally friendly, and renewable and is still largely underused. Geothermal can provide heating, cooling, and electricity for the future. It is always on, unlike wind and solar, and uses much of the same technology used in existing oil and gas development. It can be tapped both by large projects or small home-based heat exchangers. Another good fit for Texas is the fact that one the nation’s foremost centers for the study and promotion of geothermal energy is at Southern Methodist University.
Geothermal energy has been used for over 100 years in many places around the world. Current geothermal power plants use relatively shallow hot water sources. We can think of volcanoes and geysers as examples of this type of naturally occurring heat and steam. Wells are drilled into the hydrothermal source and steam is piped to the surface which powers a turbine that generates electricity. California has 40 hydrothermal generating plants which produce 6% of California’s electricity and Nevada gets 9% of its electricity from geothermal wells.
Texas has significant geothermal potential in existing wells and by drilling into heat sources. This could help keep fellow Texans working as we transition away from fossil fuels to stop global warming. Hot rocks are found down in the Earth in many locations at reasonable drilling depths. These can be developed by drilling wells into the heat source and cycling fluid to transfer heat to the surface to generate electricity. Wells in Texas have found temperatures over 300° F at 10,000 feet and over 500° F below 20,000 feet. The San Antonio area holds promise for development as do many other areas of Texas.
The US Department of Energy projects that total geothermal electricity generation capacity has the potential to increase to more than 60 gigawatts by 2050, providing 8.5% of U.S. electricity generation. Current energy from geothermal sources is less than 1/2% of our total needs but long-term it can provide another energy source that can help us achieve the national goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. We need to support research at SMU and other institutions to optimize geothermal technology and move development forward. Wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear cannot do it all. Of course there may an ultimate source in fusion energy. I’ll cover the advancements in fission and fusion energy in a future column.
To find out more about how to get involved with the Kendall County Democratic Party, visit www.kcdems.us or call our office at 830-331-1243.
Kevin Henning is a local Democrat.