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Natural Gas Bans Gain Traction Across the U.S.

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Diane Cherry's picture
Principal Diane Cherry Consulting, LLC

Diane Cherry is a woman owned small business providing clean energy consulting services for local government, clean energy companies, non-profits and educational institutions. Her projects and...

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  • Jan 26, 2022
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Natural Gas Bans Gain Traction Across the U.S.

Natural gas has long been touted as a “climate-friendly” and “clean” fossil fuel. Many call it the “bridge” between dirtier sources (i.e. coal and oil) and renewable energy. On the one hand, natural gas produces less carbon dioxide when burned, but with the climate situation, it is imperative to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible. In addition, there are other combustion byproducts, like nitrous oxide and particulate matter, that pose serious health risks. 

Then, there is a bigger picture of natural gas combustion: it is only one step in the natural gas use cycle, and carbon dioxide is only one pollutant. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 28 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over 100 years. Between extraction, compression, pipeline transport, and storage, there are ample opportunities for methane leakage. With so many truly clean, renewable energy options out there–and many that are increasingly more economical than natural gas–building fossil fuel infrastructure may equate to throwing money away. For example, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was canceled in early 2021 in part because of the extensive construction and pending litigation costs.

Natural gas opponents and proponents have hurled arguments at each other over the past year as electrification policies moved front and center. Furnaces, boilers, and other gas-powered cooking appliances in buildings significantly impact public health and climate pollution. In May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recommended that global policymakers ban fossil fuel furnace sales by 2025 and phase out natural gas use in buildings. This spurred a flurry of mixed policy across the United States. By mid-2021, local governments in California and Washington adopted gas bans and new building electrification codes, with others in development in the Northeast. By December, cities across the Pacific Northwest, as well as Washington state, proposed phasing out natural gas furnaces, water heaters, and new gas construction. 

New York City recently became the largest city in the country to pass a bill banning gas hookups in buildings. As of early January, that bill is set for approval. The State of New York also has a ban on the table. The resolution sets a 2027 target for all new buildings to have zero-emissions heat sources–i.e., electrifying buildings rather than using direct fossil-fuel hookups. This would be a big step toward meeting the state’s carbon-free electricity by 2040 and net-zero by 2050 targets. 

Even with these promising developments, twenty states (accounting for around one-third of U.S. gas consumption) have passed laws prohibiting local gas bans, and others are in the works. Utility companies have urged legislators to block efforts to reduce or eliminate natural gas, claiming that the outcome will raise costs. Others say that banning natural gas hookups will simply result in more fossil-fueled generation from power plants, harming climate efforts. 

All of these arguments, however, ignore the fact that renewables can and should provide power for newly-electrified buildings, and ultimately will economically outperform natural gas. New natural gas construction will only lose money once inevitably tighter environmental goals require its reform or early retirement. 

On the whole, clean energy deployment in 2022 is expected to be about 65 percent greater from 2021-2026 than it was from 2015-2020. The economic competitiveness of clean energy is one factor as well as supportive national and international policies and federal tax credits. As natural gas bans gain more traction, clean energy deployment will continue to grow. 

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 26, 2022

This is definitely a trend in U.S. cities-- have such policies been implemented abroad anywhere? I'm curious where the first 'results' will come in to see the in practice pros and cons at work

Diane Cherry's picture
Diane Cherry on Jan 28, 2022

Agreed not saying this is easy esp. in the building sector but NYC should be a good city to follow.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 27, 2022

"With so many truly clean, renewable energy options out there–and many that are increasingly more economical than natural gas–building fossil fuel infrastructure may equate to throwing money away."

Diane, you have it exactly backwards: both wind and solar require support from gas to be viable on an electrical grid; they are the reason more fossil fuel infrastructure is being built; they are not "more economical than gas" (they would, in fact, be worthless without it).

What do you think keeps your lights on at night, after the sun goes down?

What do you think keeps your computer from going dark, when a cloud moves over your local solar farm?
 

What fuel source do think is used to stabilize the erratic frequency and voltage output from solar and wind farms?

"As natural gas bans gain more traction, clean energy deployment will continue to grow."

 

Exactly backwards, again: as clean energy gains more traction, consumption of gas will continue to grow.


Ignorance of what's causing climate change is worse than denial.

 

Diane Cherry's picture
Diane Cherry on Jan 28, 2022

Hi Bob, I understand that natural gas is replacing coal as coal plants are retired. But we are going to see increasing amount of natural gas plants becoming uneconomical by 2030. Rocky Mountain Institute did a study (figure below) showing that by 2035, over 90 percent of proposed combined-cycle gas plants, if built, would be uneconomic to run compared to the cost of building a new clean energy portfolio. 

The issue is not reliability it is variability and how to get clean energy variability to be reliable and natural gas is not the way to go - esp. if we want to meet climatic goals of 1.5 degrees celsius.

 

Figure 2: 90 percent of proposed combined-cycle gas plants, if built, will face stranded investment risk by 2035

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 28, 2022

Diane, you're missing the point. Renewables are incapable of replacing dispatchable energy - it's an inherent limitation. There is no solar at night, often there's little during the day. Wind is often unavailable, and your distinction between variability and reliability is one of syntax only. For the purposes of powering an electricity grid, variability is unreliability. 

Look at the graph above. If gas was only replacing coal, consumption should be leveling off - but it isn't. It's accelerating, and there is only one reason: intermittent renewable sources like solar and wind require dispatchable energy to fill in the blanks when they aren't available. More renewables = more gas.

In August 2021, CA Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for our state's electrical grid. Without sufficient RMR (Reliability Must-Run, aka dispatchable) resources available, California's CAISO grid faced the real possibility of a state-wide shutdown. The only missing ingredient was a single cloudy day with little wind.

His response? He ordered five portable gas-fired generators - 150 million watts - to be immediately dispatched to plants where they might be needed to maintain system reliability. To avoid the embarrassment of a failed clean energy policy, he said they were for "temporary use only". But within days, the lease of the generators was changed to "lease with an option to buy". In other words: California is not only building new gas generation to provide grid reliability, but it's doing it the hard way, the stupid way, the expensive way, due to a Governor who can't admit he was wrong about renewables. How long must this continue?

"The California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved licenses for gas-fired power units to help the state cope with continued electricity shortages. The move comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier declared a state of emergency for California’s power grid.

The state’s Dept. of Water Resources is procuring what it called five temporary gas-fueled generators, each with generation capacity of 30 MW, to install at existing power plants. The CEC on Aug. 17 approved licenses, good for up to five years, for the generators."

California Will Add Gas-Fired Units to Increase Power Supply

 

Diane Cherry's picture
Diane Cherry on Jan 31, 2022

I'm not going to continue to argue with you. There will be examples I can point to and you can point to. But the clear fact is we are moving to a carbon neutral economy and while natural gas remains in the generation mix now the future looks decidedly different.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 31, 2022

"There will be examples I can point to and you can point to."

You haven't pointed to any examples, Diane. I would welcome them, because I believe you're sincere in your beliefs and we both might learn something. As I always say: "I love to be proven wrong."

But what you call clear facts are nothing more than vague hopes for the future - the same ones renewables advocates have accepted as truth for over half a century. The clear fact, as my graph from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows, is that we are not moving to a carbon-neutral economy.  And the non-peer-reviewed study from the "Rocky Mountain Institute" (RMI) you cite is only an example of the continuing influence oil industry astroturf organizations have on U.S. energy policy:

"One of the qualifications that Lovins rarely lists on his brag sheet on RMI’s web site is a statement that he let slip during an interview on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now on July 16, 2008:

'You know, I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years, and they understand how expensive it is to drill for oil.'"

No more time to waste.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jan 31, 2022

You are quite correct in your discussion.  I think the fracking people are their own worst enemies.  Apart from the issues you raise, it is increasingly clear that any reduction in GWP from substituting gas for coal is more than negated by their methane emissions. See another discussion on EnergyCentral here

But, as you say, the economic benefits alone from clean energy will reduce the role for gas going forward.  It will happen whether or not the government lends a hand.  But, it sure would be nice if the government plays a bigger role now.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 31, 2022

Mark, is that your personal opinion or that of your employer, Royal Dutch Shell? Your account differs markedly from Shell's stated goals.

Shell Aims To Be World’s Biggest Electric Producer, Using Natural Gas?

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jan 31, 2022

Your analysis is technically shallow, while relying on green energy marketing hype aimed at deliberate deception.

Mindless bans on natural gas are the product of feckless politicians who are not being economically hammered by stunning increases in energy costs. Banning natural gas shifts the economic burden squarely on the shoulders of the poor, disadvantaged and middle class, solely so liberal elitists can feel good about themselves.

Deploy energy resources on the basis of reasonably clean, reasonably affordable, and reasonably profitable. That means a balanced approach.

 

Diane Cherry's picture
Diane Cherry on Feb 1, 2022

The piece was merely stating what is happening where there are bans in natural gas and a view as to why. It doesn't solve everything and I didn't talk about who it would hit in terms of equity issues. Reasonably clean, affordable, and profitable - all good tenets for moving forward. I also didn't mention energy market reform which will also cut into this.

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