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Clean Power

Fossil Gas No Longer Needed As Bridge To Clean Energy Future

By Laurie Stone

As coal 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 2020, the 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 Outlet.

 

 
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Written By

Since 1982, RMI (previously Rocky Mountain Institute) has advanced market-based solutions that transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure future. An independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank, RMI engages with businesses, communities and institutions to accelerate and scale replicable solutions that drive the cost-effective shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Please visit http://www.rmi.org for more information.

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