Fossil Gas No Longer Needed As
Bridge To Clean Energy Future
plants shut down across the United States, there is a pervasive
belief that gas is the necessary “bridge” to a low-carbon grid. As of
late 2021, utilities and other investors are anticipating investing
more than $50 billion in new gas power plants over the next decade.
But, in reality, we no longer need these gas plants to tide us over
until renewables are ready or affordable. Renewables are here now, and
are often cheaper than gas.
In fact, clean
energy portfolios — combinations of renewable energy, efficiency,
demand response, and battery storage — are increasingly economical
compared with new gas plants. A
recent RMI report found
that clean energy portfolios are a cheaper option than more than 80
percent of gas plants proposed to enter service by 2030. At least 70
GW of proposed gas plants could be economically avoided with cleaner
alternatives, saving $22 billion and 873 million metric tons of CO2
over project lifetimes. This is the equivalent of taking more than 9
million vehicles off the road each year.
Already, more than half of gas plants
proposed to come online in the past two years have been canceled
before construction began.
For example, in New Mexico, the Public
Service Company (PNM) is planning to retire the coal-powered San Juan
Generating Station in 2022. To replace capacity, PNM proposed a 280 MW
gas plant, the Piñon Energy Center, along with solar and storage
projects. However, stakeholders pushed back on the plan, and in July
commission approved an alternate 100 percent renewable and storage
replacement for San Juan based on costs, economic development, and New
Mexico energy law.
And in Maryland, the Mattawoman
Generating Station — a 990 MW gas plant — was approved in 2015 in a
majority-Black community of Prince George’s County. However, due to
economics (clean energy portfolios became cheaper than the proposed
gas plant in 2018), a
federal civil rights complaint, and pipeline
cancellations, the project was declared no longer feasible, and
was canceled in January 2021.
Replacing all of the proposed gas plants
with clean, renewable power also has other benefits, based on RMI’s
report. It creates 20 percent more job-years, mostly in construction
and manufacturing, and would prevent $1.6 billion to $3.7 billion
in health impacts each year. And many of these job and health impacts
will be found in low-income communities and communities of color.
Today, even more
risks are emerging making gas plants an unsuitable risk. Declining
renewable energy costs, rising gas prices, pollution-regulating
policies, and more all threaten the viability of new gas projects.
As utilities and investors look to invest
more than $50 billion in new gas plants over the next decade, we must
remember that the myth that gas is needed as a bridge fuel to a clean
energy future is just that, a myth. Fortunately, leading examples from
across the country demonstrate that this decade is the time to invest
in renewables — for our economy, our health, and our communities.
2022 Rocky Mountain Institute. Published with permission.
Originally posted on RMI
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