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Natural gas plays important role in region’s energy infrastructure

Guest Opinion, The Spokesman Review

The January storm and record demand created significant stress on the regional energy infrastructure and laid bare a scary truth: The integrated gas and electric energy systems that we rely upon run on the very edge during extreme cold weather.


We successfully avoided an electric grid failure this year because natural gas storage and pipelines were available to fuel electric generating plants that supported the electric system during this extreme weather. Also critical were our region’s hydropower system and electricity imported from the Southwest and Rocky Mountain states. We may not be as lucky in the future if decarbonization efforts fail to recognize the critical importance of a diverse energy mix that includes affordable and reliable natural gas.


There is no margin for error, no room to accommodate the unexpected. We cannot underestimate the critical importance of robust energy diversity – and the infrastructure needed to meet the demands being placed on it. The Pacific Northwest is blessed with two amazing energy infrastructures in the electric grid and the natural gas system. Together these systems provide safe, reliable, and affordable energy to millions of homes, businesses, schools and governments in the Pacific Northwest. It is a simple matter of fact that we can’t achieve our region’s ambitious decarbonization goals without both systems working in tandem.


The electric grid is going through a major transformation driven by policy goals to reduce carbon emissions. Our generation mix is rapidly moving away from coal-fired generation to renewable electricity like solar and wind. As that shift occurs, the region is leaning more heavily on other on-demand resources like hydropower and imported electricity, but the system must also have natural gas-fired generation and infrastructure to move the energy across the region.


During the coldest hour of the coldest day the natural gas system delivers more than twice the energy to homes and businesses in the region as does the electric grid, not including the gas delivered to generate electricity.


The electric grid is feeling strained as policies promote electrification and provoke a shift to electrify more homes and businesses.


Converting natural gas heating load to electric heating risks the reliability and affordability of the regional energy system. Experts have been ringing alarm bells in recent years about whether the grid is adequate to meet the existing demands being placed upon it, even before new policy-driven loads materialize.


Expanding and modernizing natural gas pipelines, storage capacities, and distribution networks are critical measures to fortify our energy system against the inevitable pressures of growing demand during critical weather events. The same is true for electric transmission, storage assets and distribution networks.


This system is ready to be expanded to support growth and the local economy with new industries that result in increased electrical demand, such as data centers that need power, and growing population density in certain regions. But that growth cannot happen without support from policymakers and the public.


The path forward requires acknowledging the indispensable role and capabilities of the natural gas system in our energy mix. By investing in the expansion and modernization of natural gas facilities and the electric grid, we can safeguard our energy supply and move confidently toward an affordable clean energy future.


The recent storm demonstrated the vital need for a diversified energy portfolio. Investing in natural gas and electric infrastructure is not merely a matter of maintaining the status quo. It is a forward-looking strategy to ensure energy reliability and affordability as we transition toward decarbonization.

Camilo Amezquita and Roger Gray

Amezquita is vice president and general manager of Williams-Northwest Pipeline. Gray is CEO and president of PNGCPower.

To read the opinion editorial, go to .

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