Concerned Scientists warn states about going ‘all-in’ on natural gas

An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) suggests that two-thirds of states may be putting their electricity consumers at financial risk because of an overreliance on natural gas.

Eight states now use natural gas for at least 50% of their in-state electricity generation, and another 11 states use natural gas for more than 25%. Rhode Island tops the list with 95% of its in-state electricity generation coming from natural gas, followed by Delaware (83%), Nevada (63%), and Florida (62%), according to UCS.

In “Rating the States on Their Risk of Natural Gas Overreliance” UCS says while states want to meet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon reduction mandates they shouldn’t go “all-in” on natural gas.

The retirement of scores of coal-fired power plants and some nuclear units has making the ongoing dash-to-gas more intense.

Eleven states have increased their share of electricity generated using natural gas by at least 10% points in recent years, with Delaware (63%) and Georgia (23 points) having the biggest increases.

In 26 states more than half of the power plants being built in the near term will rely on natural gas for fuel.

The states that will have the largest electric capacity fueled by natural gas in 2017 are Texas (77,000 MW), California (46,000 MW), and Florida (39,000 MW).

Over the years, UCS has issued a number of reports critical of nuclear energy and coal-fired power plants. The organization was founded in 1969 by several scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who called for scientific research to be directed away from military technologies and toward solving pressing environmental and social problems.

“Natural gas has a potential role to play in lowering electricity costs, reducing carbon pollution, and helping us transition to more renewable energy. But as you’ll see, too much natural gas—itself a fossil fuel—can be a problem, including for consumers,” UCS said in the document.

Natural gas prices are volatile because of factors like its use in other sectors (such as industry) and supply shortages during periods of extreme weather. Increasing reliance on natural gas to generate electricity means price spikes will hit consumers that much harder, UCS said in the document.

“Natural gas power plants and the interstate pipelines that supply them can be long-lived and expensive, requiring decades-long financial commitments,” UCS said in the report.

Under the federal Clean Power Plan, states will be making important decisions about the role natural gas should play in reducing these emissions (for example, by replacing carbon-intensive coal-fired power plants), UCS said. “The smart states will see big commitments to natural gas as a shortsighted solution that increases risks to consumers in the near and long term,” UCS said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.