The Clean Power Plan released Monday has a goal of cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. According to the EPA, power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the nation.
But there isn’t just one way to go about cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Under the plan, states have options as to what energy mix they use. So when there’s all this emphasis being placed on renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, is there still room for natural gas in a low-carbon world?
In the carbon emissions game, natural gas beats coal-fired power plants. But Jeremy Symons, associate vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, says we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.
“(Natural gas is) not as good as the tremendous opportunity that’s on tap for clean energy and energy efficiency for every state in the country,” he says.
Symons says the expectation is that companies will opt for more renewable energy sources, like solar and wind power. But those targets might be tough to meet in some states, like Washington, according to Ken Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University. He says Washington doesn’t have a lot of what energy people call “peak watt hours,” where the sun is shining at at its max, enough to generate power. He says states can bundle and meet targets as a group.
Still, he says, as long as natural gas stays relatively cheap, states will use it—especially ones that rely heavily on coal for electricity now. Going from coal to all renewables? Probably not going to happen, he says.
“You’re going to replace some of it with natural gas, too,” Medlock says, “so there’s going to be an increase in demand there.”
Dan Whitten, spokesman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, says he’s not worried at all about the future of natural gas.
“You know, the White House has advanced some rhetoric and some messaging that pits renewables against natural gas, and we feel like that’s very unfortunate,” he says. “It’s a false narrative.”
He says natural gas doesn’t need incentives as part of these carbon rules. It’s still, he says, a game changer.
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