Energy Exchange

New and better way to assess the climate impact of new pipelines

The urgent need to decarbonize the energy system makes it imperative for state and federal regulators to understand the climate impacts of proposed energy infrastructure. Officials deciding whether to approve new natural gas pipelines must be able to answer a crucial question: Will a particular pipeline reduce pollution by speeding the demise of more carbon intensive alternatives, or increase greenhouse emissions by locking in dependence on another fossil fuel?

Yet to date, natural gas utilities and pipeline developers have been largely unwilling to provide detailed life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) assessments to regulators reviewing their supply projects and plans. Nor have regulatory agencies been pressing for this data.

In fact just this morning, Federal Energy Regulatory (FERC) Commissioner Richard Glick testified to Congress that “the Commission is ignoring its statutory mandates under the Natural Gas Act by refusing to analyze reasonably foreseeable greenhouse gas emissions associated with new interstate natural gas pipelines and facilities used to import or export liquefied natural gas.”

But a new analysis released this week of a proposed interstate pipeline project in New York and New Jersey significantly advances this compelling need. The fact that it was commissioned by a utility company makes it even more significant.

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New England’s energy future lies in the balance

As recent and ongoing activity regarding fuel security, renewable energy procurement and natural gas infrastructure make clear, the energy system in New England is at a critical juncture, the responses and solutions to which will shape the region’s economy for the next 30 years or more.

ISO-NE, the regional electricity grid operator, released its fuel security study raising legitimate reliability concerns based largely on the sufficiency of pipeline infrastructure and expanding deployment of renewable energy. Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) initiated a comprehensive review of electric system resiliency, including reliability and fuel security. Read More »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 , | Language: / Comments are closed