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June 2024 Exclusive Story

Gas-Fired Electricity Generation To Approach Record This Summer

In its Short-Term Energy Outlook for May, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that natural gas consumption to generate electricity during the peak demand months of June, July and August will reach 44.7 billion cubic feet a day, close to the record set last summer.

“Over the past few years, the balance of sources of electricity generation in the United States—especially in the summer—has shifted to more renewables and natural gas and less coal,” EIA observes. “U.S. natural gas-fired electric power generation has increased most years since 2014 as natural gas-fired generation has become more competitive with coal. Natural gas-fired generation capacity has increased over this period as well.”

The agency explains that “more efficient combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plants, along with increased availability and relatively low prices for natural gas, have made natural gas-fired generation cheaper to run (than coal).”

From 2014 to 2023, total U.S. natural gas-fired generation capacity has grown 19%, with actual generation growing 60%, EIA details.

Renewables have supported natural gas’ ascent. “As electric generation capacity from renewable sources grows, natural gas is used increasingly to balance the intermittent nature of electricity produced from wind and solar,” EIA writes. “Since 2014, the share of U.S. electricity generation from natural gas in the summer has increased almost every year except 2021, increasing from 29% in 2014 to 46% in 2023.

“In 2024, we forecast a slight decline in the share of U.S. summer natural gas-fired electricity generation to 44% and a shift to more electricity generation from renewable sources, particularly solar,” EIA continues. “Electricity generation from renewable sources has increased steadily since 2018, largely due to increased wind and solar generation capacity.”

Natural Gas’ Benefits

According to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the growth in natural gas-fired power generation has “led to historic emissions and air pollutant reductions equaling $450 billion to $1.04 trillion in public health benefits for Pennsylvanians.”

These numbers come from an MSC analysis that draws on emissions data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and applies U.S. Environmental Protection Agency methodologies to assign a dollar value to each ton of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur oxide (Sox) reduced, MSC describes.

“As shale gas development became prevalent across the Commonwealth and in-state natural gas electric generation increased from 5% to 59% between 2005-2022, criteria emissions contributing to respiratory ailments—nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides—are down 81% and 93%, respectively, yielding a range of $7.9-$18.4 billion in NOx and $445.1 billion-$1.02 trillion in SOx cumulative public health benefits for Pennsylvanians,” the coalition reports.

Between 2005 and 2022, those emissions reductions add up to 1,317,335 fewer tons of NOx and 11,127,515 fewer tons of SOx, MSC details. The coalition says these pollutants commonly are associated with respiratory diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and lung cancer.

“Pennsylvania’s energy leadership with the sustained development of clean natural gas is generating substantial benefits for our environment, economy and, as this data shows, the well-being of our communities,” assesses MSC President David Callahan. “Thanks to natural gas, Pennsylvanians are breathing cleaner air than ever before, directly translating to improved quality of life for our residents.”

Despite these benefits, the Biden administration has released new power plant emission rules that MSC warns would “jeopardize the reliability of the nation’s power grid and environmental gains by attacking natural gas generating capacity.”

According to law firm K&L Gates, these rules require “all coal-fired plants intending to operate past 2039, and all new base load gas-fired plants, to employ best system of emissions reduction (BSER) to control 90% of their carbon emissions based on carbon capture and sequestration.” The firm adds that “electric generating units that cease operations before 2039 will be limited to 40% natural gas cofiring by 2030,” though EGUs that plan to cease operations before 2032 “will have no emission reduction obligations.”

MSC suggests that limiting power plants’ natural gas use will undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “In Pennsylvania, America’s second largest natural gas producing state, gas use in the electric power sector led to the largest year-over-year carbon emissions decline for Pennsylvania on record,” the coalition shares. “Overall carbon emissions from the state’s power sector are down 46% compared to peak 2005 levels. This is equivalent to removing 12.5 million cars from the road for a year-or removing every car in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and several neighboring states combined.”

Callahan concludes, “The undeniable consumer, environmental and energy security gains afforded by Pennsylvania’s natural gas abundance should serve as a wakeup call for those convinced natural gas should not have a role in our future energy mix.”

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