By: Erin Flaherty
In the past month, a handful of states have announced new mandates on natural gas plants. This has sparked controversy, as many have different opinions surrounding the productivity of natural gas. Some argue that mandates are jumping into renewable energy too quickly, saying that natural gas is the “”bridge fuel” that will help the energy transition, replacing coal while buying time for renewable energy to scale up”. Others argue that a “bridge fuel” is unnecessary, and that leaping from coal use to renewable energy is ideal for most states.
One state where the “bridge fuel” mentality is being seen is in Massachusetts. The state has a mandate to get 40% of its energy usage to clean energy by 2030. However instead of pulling projected plants out of Massachusetts, NRG Energy, a gas plant producer, is instead using this mandate as a way to justify more natural gas energy. Their spokesman David Gaiser said that “Unlike a nuclear plant or even a coal plant, if more renewables are integrated, [a gas plant] can be ramped up or down to accommodate them,” Construction of this gas plant has already begun.
In Arizona, however, using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” is not on the minds of regulators. These regulators have dismissed upcoming plans for gas plants and instead ordered the use of renewable energy. They also have put in place a 9 month moratorium on certain gas plants that are over 150 megawatts. This means that for 9 months, there will be a temporary ban on plants that have the power to produce over 150 megawatts of energy. Many of the state’s biggest plants are well over this limit, like the state’s second biggest natural gas plant, Gila River Generating Station, that has a capacity of 1,250 megawatts.
These new changes in the future of energy use in Arizona came as a surprise to many. Many officials from Arizona Public Service argue that natural gas and renewable energy should both be used, since Arizona has high demands for air-conditioning, consuming a profusion of the state’s available energy. Andrew Tobin, one of the regulators against the creation of new natural gas plants mandates, called what the state is demanding for new energy production erratic, saying that he is ” nervous that we will end up building a lot of capital plant that doesn’t stand the test of time.”
As states have been releasing these new mandates, many companies have been pulling their projected plans for new plants out of these states. Michigan released a mandate that calls for 15% of the state’s energy used for utilities to transition to renewable energy by 2021. Since this plan was released, CMS Energy (a natural gas company) has canceled their proposed expansion plans for plants outside of Detroit.
These 3 states have certainly set forward huge mandates for the future of their energy, but by far the state that is taking the most action towards lessening their use of natural gas and coal energy is California. In the future, the amount of natural gas resources in California will be rapidly declining. Robert B. Weisenmiller, the chairman of the California Energy Commission, even said that “at some point soon, we’ll be permitting the last gas plant in California”.
California's mandate states that 50% of all the state’s used energy must come from clean and renewable energy sources by 2030. California is already at the 30% mark of their goal. This mandate may seem impossible, but for California, it is quite possible, since wind and solar power are becoming increasingly popular in the state due to their affordability. The prices of both energies have gone down in the past years, and the amount of natural gas being used has fallen with it. Natural gas and coal usage for energy fell by 7.7% from 2016 to 2017, according to the Department of Energy.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted in their Energy Outlook released in 2015 that by 2050, we will have increased our usage of natural gas by almost 1%. However, they are now seeing a large unexpected decline in the supply of natural gas. If states continue to release mandates at the rate that they are now and truly implement policies to achieve them, we could be looking a significant decrease instead.
A decrease in natural gas production would have huge impacts, both economically and environmentally. Mark Jacobson, a professor of environmental engineering at Stanford, outlined in a recent study how the transition from natural gas to renewable energies would benefit the economy. In an interview with CNN, he said that when accounting for the jobs lost and created overall, 22 million more jobs would be created globally by this transition, and argued that “one does not need to believe in climate change to want to transition energy”, since the economic benefit would be so impactful.
The transition from natural gas energy to renewable energy could substantially lessen the issue of global warming that we are facing. Natural gas plants emit a high of 2 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per kilowatt-hour. In comparison, wind turbines emit a high of 0.02 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per kilowatt-hour. The implementation of renewable energy sources would have a large impact on our issue of global warming, if implemented on a large scale.