While the local area awaits the decision from the state's Public Service Commission on the future of NRG Energy LLC in Dunkirk, people are still weighing in on the benefits of natural gas.
National Grid has told the PSC it can meet future power demands in this part of the state by upgrading its transmission system.
NRG has told the PSC it is willing to build a natural gas-fired combined cycle, at NRG's expense, to replace the existing coal-fired units.
A recent report issued by the Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions provided a look at the expanded use of natural gas in power generation. The report said lower natural gas prices were good for cutting back on the use of coal and lowering emissions but deterred the development of renewables, which are more expensive but would provide even lower emissions.
"The expanded use of natural gas - as a replacement for coal and petroleum - can help our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near- to mid-term, even as the economy grows. In 2013, energy sector emissions are at the lowest levels since 1994, in part because of the substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels, particularly coal. Total U.S. emissions are not expected to reach 2005 levels again until sometime after 2040," the report stated. "Substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels cannot be the sole basis for long-term U.S. efforts to address climate change because natural gas is a fossil fuel and its combustion emits greenhouse gases. To avoid dangerous climate change, greater reductions will be necessary than natural gas alone can provide. Ensuring that low-carbon investment dramatically expands must be a priority. Zero-emission sources of energy, such as wind, nuclear and solar, are critical, as are the use of carbon capture-and-storage technologies at fossil fuel plants and continued improvements in energy efficiency."
National Grid US President Tom King joined with the American Gas Association in praising the report, according to a release on Grid's website.
"We concur with the findings of this report, chief among them that as the US economy continues to rebound, natural gas can help our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near- to mid-term," King said. "With gas prices expected to remain low for the foreseeable future and with an abundance of domestic supply, natural gas provides a cost-effective, low-carbon fuel source to aid overall economic growth and curb demand for imported oil."
King lauded the report's authors for calling for the continued development of zero-emission energy sources such as wind, nuclear and solar, carbon capture-and-storage technologies at fossil fuel plants and especially continued improvements in energy efficiency. The study views natural gas and renewable energy sources as complementary components of the power sector. Natural gas plants can quickly scale up or down their electricity production and so can act as an effective hedge against the intermittency of certain renewables. The report also aligns with National Grid's commitment to better understand and more accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production and use.
King also commended the report's authors for their call for consumer education about the environmental and efficiency benefits of natural gas use through labeling and standards programs and the recommendation to create consumer incentives to use natural gas when emissions reductions are possible.
The conclusion of the Center's report states that natural gas has "an important opportunity to take market share from other primary fuels. In particular, it could displace coal in the power sector, petroleum in the transportation sector, and fuel oil in the commercial and residential sectors."
King's comments may have had nothing to do with the Dunkirk situation as National Grid is also a natural gas distribution company, delivering natural gas to more than 3 million customers in New England, Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, along with parts of central and eastern upstate New York.
As it turns out, western New York is one of the few places National Grid is electric only.
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