Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that he is “shooting for the moon” and spending $500 million “to close every coal-fired power plant in the United States and halt the growth of natural gas,” through a Beyond Carbon campaign led by the Sierra Club. But the proposal is out-of-touch with reality and ignores the ever-more-important role natural gas is playing to lower U.S. power generation carbon emissions.
The announcement is a major step away from Bloomberg’s previous position on the role that natural gas can play in decreasing emissions. During his time as mayor of New York City, Bloomberg passed legislation requiring that city buildings phase out the use of heavy heating oils in favor of cleaner alternatives, such as natural gas. The results were quick and dramatic. Just one year after the change, New York City saw greenhouse gas emissions decline by 20 percent. At the time, Bloomberg praised the change:
“Natural gas is a low-cost, low-emissions fuel that makes good economic and environmental sense. This study confirms its importance to New York City’s reliable, clean energy future and demonstrates that with responsible, well-regulated development, we can make the investments that both improve our air quality and save lives.”
Despite this and his home state’s ever-increasing natural gas consumption, Bloomberg is now committing to “stop the construction of new gas plants,” continuing the “Keep It In the Ground” trend of celebrating the emissions reductions of natural gas, while demonizing it for being a fossil fuel.
Natural Gas Is Helping the United States Drastically Reduce Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Natural gas has been credited with playing a major role in reducing U.S. GHG emissions over the last decade. As International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol recently stated,
“In the last 10 years, the emissions reductions in the United States has been the largest in the history of energy – almost 800 million tons – and this is a huge decline of emissions.”
The latest EPA data show that U.S. GHG emissions are at their lowest levels since 1992, with CO2 emissions from electric power generation decreasing 668 million metric tons from 2005 to 2017. The EPA explains that this has occurred while total electric power generation has remained relatively flat for the past five years – something they credit to the “increased generation from natural gas and renewable energy sources.”
In fact, a 2018 Energy Information report found that growth in natural gas consumption accounts for 61 percent of the total 3.86 billion metric tons of electric generation CO2 reductions since 2005. The data in the EIA report further showed that natural gas cut 50 percent more emissions for electricity generation than wind and solar combined during this time period.
Natural Gas Is Helping Maintain Grid Stability
Bloomberg boasts on his website that Beyond Carbon will be the “largest coordinated campaign on climate change the United States has ever undertaken”—but waves away major questions about how to ensure reliable, low-emission electricity without natural gas, stating only that:
“In order to move the United States toward a 100 percent clean energy economy we …replace fossil fuels with electricity in buildings. Switching from gas and oil furnaces will help create a cleaner electrical grid, a key climate solution.”
Natural gas is not a transitional fuel, but an increasingly important part of the American energy mix.
PJM Interconnection, a regional supplier of electricity to 13 states and the District of Columbia, credits natural gas with facilitating a “historic and unprecedented generation shift.” In April 2018, PJM credited new natural gas facilities with helping to maintain the grid’s reliability when several coal, oil and nuclear plants in the region closed, stating,
“The PJM grid remains reliable even with the resource retirements analyzed to date and investment in new, increasingly more efficient gas-powered generation sources.”
And the regional electricity supplier reaffirmed the important role natural gas is playing to ensure grid stability in October following the announcement of several additional planned closures, explaining to E&E News,
“Any potential reliability impacts will be addressed by a combination of already planned baseline transmission upgrades and the completion of new baseline upgrades.”
Perhaps even more important in light of Bloomberg’s new campaign, earlier this year, PJM released a report on the benefits of its transmission system that specifically highlighted the emissions reductions of transitioning to natural gas:
“Coal-fired generation is retiring and being replaced by natural gas-fired and renewable generation…Between 2011 and 2018, transmission system enhancements in PJM have enabled the interconnection of more than 29,500 MW of additional natural gas-fired generation and 5,910 MW of renewable wind and solar generation. Today, PJM’s generation mix is 30 percent less carbon-intensive than 10 years ago.”
The shale revolution has made natural gas an affordable and reliable alternative to traditional power generation fuel sources. Over the past decade, aging coal and oil-fired plants have been replaced by natural gas generators, leading to dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
For Bloomberg, the role that clean-burning natural gas plays – and will continue to play – in U.S. electricity generation is an inconvenient truth. Even as renewable installations have increased, natural gas remains a key part of the energy equation, able to provide reliable power that is able to compliment the growth in renewables. Perhaps in shooting for the moon, he has his head in the clouds.