Author Archives: N. Jonathan Peress

Caution: Future Market Need for Natural Gas Pipelines is Smaller than You Think

alaska-67304_1920Like a racer facing a caution flag warning of hazards ahead, America’s natural gas pipeline developers are seeing signs that their business plans aren’t tracking with the future. Mistakes in this race carry price tags in the billions, and could leave ratepayers (in other words, the public) footing the bill for decades to come.

Two recent developments in particular – a report from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and a rate case at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – show that the economics for new natural gas pipeline capacity to supply power plants are not as compelling or sustainable as the conventional wisdom would have you believe.

Together, the AG report and the FERC case provide a strong counterpoint to those now rushing to create excessive new pipeline capacity.  They suggest that many pipelines will lose customers and money as lower cost alternatives outcompete them, and long before investor expectations are met and their financing is paid off. The question is whether policymakers and pipeline developers will slow down and consider the dangers, or continue to plow ahead. Read More »

Posted in Natural Gas| Comments are closed

Jersey Utility to Use Methane Data Mapped by Google Street View Cars to Target Gas Line Repairs

googlecar2Regulators Bless Plans to Use Information Developed by Environmental Defense Fund and Google in $900M Pipeline Upgrade Program to Improve Safety, Reduce Waste and Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

New York and New Jersey, like many older communities in the US, have thousands of miles of old, leak-prone gas lines under their streets, some dating back to the late 1800s. Besides safety concerns, this leaking natural gas – which is mostly methane – is a potent greenhouse gas and a huge waste that’s ultimately paid for by utility customers. While major leaks posing immediate risk are typically fixed quickly, thousands of others can persist for months or years.

Until now, it’s been hard to measure the problem on a large scale, or to use that information to better focus on upgrades with the biggest benefit for the buck. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Methane, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

New Study Emphasizes Need to Find and Fix Methane Leaks; Reveals Limits of Voluntary Action

T_S image 2A study published today in Environmental Science & Technology confirms official figures from the Environmental Protection Agency showing that an enormous amount of methane – about 80 billion cubic feet per year – is escaping from thousands of key nodes along the nation’s natural gas interstate pipeline system. This equals the 20-year climate impact of 33 coal-fired power plants and more than $240 million worth of wasted natural gas per year, enough to meet the yearly heating and cooking needs of over a million U.S. households.

The study also shows the limitations of voluntary measures to address the industry’s methane problem. Companies that volunteered for this study, for example, reported emissions 30 percent lower than companies that were not involved. For some equipment, the difference was more than seven-fold. The performance gap between volunteer and non-volunteer companies reinforces doubt about industry claims that it can manage methane emissions on its own, underscoring the need for standards that create a level playing field across the sector.

Major Challenge, Big Opportunity

The study also confirms that major emission sources are widely distributed, intermittent, and unpredictable. In this case, a relatively small number of large leaks from ill-performing equipment and facilities accounted for 40 percent of the methane leaking from the country’s pipeline transmission and storage infrastructure. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

How to Ensure New Natural Gas Infrastructure Doesn’t Lock Out Renewables

PipelineIn an ideal world, our electricity system would run on 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Moving toward that goal means transitioning away from a system of centralized, fossil fuel power plants, to an intelligent, efficient, networked energy grid that smoothly integrates vastly increased amounts of renewables and energy-efficient solutions.

To do that, we have to balance the intermittency of renewables with our steady need for electricity. That’s where natural gas comes in: When the sun stops shining or the wind stops blowing and renewables are offline, gas-fired plants can ramp up more quickly and efficiently than coal plants.

Many policymakers, regulators and industry members believe we have to build thousands of miles of new pipelines costing $150 billion or more to feed this need. But that could be an unnecessary and expensive mistake, not just now but over a very long term. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Energy Efficiency, Gas to Clean, General, Natural Gas, Renewable Energy, Utility Business Models| Tagged , | Comments are closed

Study Shows Utilities And Regulators Making Progress On Methane Leaks, But A Major Emissions Problem Remains

Thpipelinemethaneemissionse most important takeaway from a study released today by Washington State University (WSU) is that despite improvements, large amounts of methane continue to leak from the nation's local natural gas systems. Because methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, these yearly emissions are comparable to the CO2 from as many as 19 coal-fired power plants.

The estimated value of the gas escaping each year, by the way, is up to $195 million.

Although these figures represent a major ongoing challenge for gas utilities, they do reflect substantial improvement over the past two decades, thanks to a combination of effort and investment by utilities, along with a series of both state and federal policy changes enacted since 1992.

The new findings reinforce the fact that when regulators and companies both set their minds to fixing a problem, they can get some pretty good results. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a particularly powerful climate warmer – 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released to the atmosphere.

While they remain a serious problem, the ongoing utility emissions also represent an important opportunity for companies and regulators to make a big dent in greenhouse pollution. EDF believes the study underscores three major areas where improvement is necessary: Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Read 2 Responses

Reducing Carbon Pollution From The Power Sector Without Building Thousands Of Miles Of New Pipelines

rp_pipeline-Source-Maureen-flickr-300x225.jpgWith the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants nearing finalization, all sides are looking closely at the capacity of our existing infrastructure to deliver emission reductions from the power sector — including the natural gas infrastructure that could help reduce the need for aging, carbon-intensive coal-fired generation.

Some opponents of the Clean Power Plan say we need to invest billions of dollars in thousands of miles of new pipelines, while environmentalists, clean energy advocates and others are concerned that investments in new pipelines serves to reinforce fossil fuel dependence.

What policymakers and regulators need to know is this: Right now, 46 percent of the pipeline capacity that already exists isn’t being used, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Yes, 46 percent.

Figures like this mean everybody needs to rethink the whole infrastructure equation, and how to balance it most effectively. Read More »

Posted in Gas to Clean, Natural Gas| Comments are closed
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