Utilities Promising to Get to Net Zero Need Gas To Get There

Chart: Paul Horn, Inside Climate News

Numerous progressive utilities such as Xcel, which have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050, are struggling to get there without expanding the use of natural gas and this is fueling a broader and divisive debate around gas’s future, according to Inside Climate News The plan drawn up by Xcel, which serves 3.6 million customers in eight states, is telling — they propose to retire coal plants early, but also to expand the use of natural gas by purchasing a gas plant and converting one of its coal plants to run on gas, as well as to dramatically expand solar and wind energy.

Why This Matters:  Going fossil fuel free for utilities is going to be really challenging. But local consumer and environmental activist groups are using utilities’ carbon-cutting pledges to extract promises to close coal plants sooner in exchange for not protesting increasing reliance on natural gas.  Natural gas energy plants certainly emit less than coal plants.  But the risk that these natural gas plants outlive their economic viability is also a problem.  The road to all renewable electricity generation looks like it is going to have some speed bumps on it.

Two Charts Tell The Story

The list of major power companies that have pledged to achieve drastic reductions or net-zero emissions in the next 30 years is impressive, including Duke Energy and the Southern Company.  But those companies plan to use a significant amount of natural gas to get there. According to Inside Climate News,

  • Duke Energy ‘s plan for North Carolina calls for the construction of about 10,000 megawatts of natural gas plants by 2033; and
  • DTE currently has a 1,100-megawatt gas plant under construction, and it plans to operate its largest coal plant into the 2040s.
  • Xcel’s new natural gas capacity in Minnesota will increase to about 1,600 megawatts.

However, further decreases in the cost of renewable energy will continue to force drastic changes to the industry, according to many experts, who are recommending even greater shifts to wind and solar energy because the costs associated with them are mostly upfront with no ongoing fuel costs.

And what happens after 2040 is still a bit up in the air — the companies are not certain how they will achieve the final emissions cuts — because current business plans don’t go out to 2050 with any specificity. Companies are banking on technologies that do not yet exist at a scale, the deployment of carbon-capture systems, or technologies that don’t even exist yet.

Chart: Paul Horn, Inside Climate News


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