The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England
By 2030, reliance on natural gas for electricity could decrease to only 10% of New England’s consumption
Existing gas-fired electricity plants would be underused and any new gas infrastructure would be unnecessary, according to new study from Acadia Center
A new report from Acadia Center entitled “The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England” concludes that under current plans and laws, New England’s reliance on natural gas to fuel power plants could drop from 45% to approximately 10% of its electricity needs in 2030, making any investment in new gas pipelines or plants unnecessary and therefore costly.
The enormous shift away from natural gas would result from environmental policies in every New England state to promote renewables, as well as planned electricity imports from outside the region.
Connecticut has committed to reducing its 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, relative to 2001 levels, and Massachusetts has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Similar targets have been established by other states throughout New England.
The impacts from the region’s reliance on natural gas are disproportionately felt by low-income households and communities of color. The report calls for action to redress this ongoing inequity at every level of decision-making.
“This report underscores that continuing to invest in new gas infrastructure throughout the upcoming decade adds unnecessary expense, leaving us with plants and pipelines that we won’t need but could be forced to pay for,” said Daniel Sosland, President of Acadia Center. “It doesn’t make sense to build new gas-fired plants that we can’t use if we’re going to have a hope of avoiding the worst outcomes of climate change.”
In the meantime, the cost of generating wind power has dropped 70% in recent years, and utility-scale solar costs have dropped even further — by 90%, according to sources cited in the report.
The Acadia Center report studied two scenarios through 2030 — continued expansion of natural gas supply and generation capacity versus no additional investment in gas infrastructure. Under either scenario, dependence on gas-fired electricity would drop from about 45% to 10% of New England’s electricity needs.
“If natural gas is only needed to a meet a tenth of New England’s needs, then planned gas plants, and possibly existing ones, are going to be severely underutilized, and that could present problems for their finances,” warned Taylor Binnington, Senior Policy Analyst at Acadia Center.
From now until 2030, the expansion of renewables without additional investment in natural gas would result in a cumulative cost savings of about $620 million, clearly challenging the assumption that natural gas is the least expensive option, according to the study.
Furthermore, more reliance on natural gas means more dollars flowing out of Connecticut, Massachusetts and other New England states. For example, the report points out that in 2017, spending on imported natural gas by the electric power sector amounted to $1.4 billion. Recapturing some of those dollars to invest within the region could result in a net job gain.
The Acadia Center study offers several additional recommended actions and implications, including:
1. Construction of new natural gas plants should be opposed under all circumstances, since additional fossil gas generating capacity is unnecessary. New fossil gas plants may be unable to sell their electricity, potentially leaving stranded costs for ratepayers to cover.
2. Natural gas delivered to power generators in New England through expanded or upgraded pipelines would not be used enough to justify their investment costs. States should strongly consider whether new gas projects should proceed if they are misaligned with public policy.
3. Renewable electricity will play a huge role in helping states meet their carbon reduction goals. If ISO-NE’s markets continue to work against public policy goals, states should follow Connecticut’s lead and hold the ISO accountable – or find ways to work around it.
The report concludes, “the future of fossil gas power in New England will be a challenging one. Many decisions influencing what the grid will look like in the next ten years have already been made, which makes the remaining decisions even more important.” The long-term impacts of climate change – on human and ecosystem health and on the economy – have a cost, too, and decision-makers should be aware that these costs and benefits can make an even clearer case against expanding fossil gas infrastructure.
The full report is available here: https://acadiacenter.org/document/the-declining-role-of-natural-gas-power-in-new-england/
Amy McLean, Connecticut Director & Senior Policy Advocate
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Nancy Benben, Director of Communications & External Engagement
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