Renewables would displace 86 GW of gas projects in Beyond Carbon campaign


Michael Bloomberg’s $500 million Beyond Carbon campaign includes a goal to “stop the construction of new gas plants,” reasoning that by the time they would be built, they would be “out of date because renewable energy will be cheaper,” according to an opinion piece Mr. Bloomberg published on Bloomberg News.

Under the plan, renewables would replace 150 proposed gas units totaling 86 gigawatts of capacity, as shown in a map provided by the Sierra Club, a major partner in Beyond Carbon.

The proposed gas units are largely in five states: Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, where gas pipeline expansions are planned, and Ohio and Pennsylvania, “in the fracking areas of Appalachia,” said Sierra Club Regional Campaign Director Holly Bender in a pv magazine interview.  (The map does not show proposed gas units in a given state where a site has not yet been proposed—as in North Carolina and Virginia.)

The United States currently has 530 GW of gas units, said Ms. Bender, adding that “unfortunately, new plants continue to be proposed” beyond the 82 GW now on the drawing boards.

To stop new gas plants, the Sierra Club will engage in regulatory proceedings that evaluate utility integrated resource plans and certificate of need filings, said Ms. Bender.  “We need to ensure that in every venue, we’re advocating for fair modeling and fair assumptions.”

In deregulated markets, the Sierra Club will work for fair measurement of capacity needs, Ms. Bender said, and oppose proposed rules that would prevent clean energy sources from participating in the capacity market and thereby earning revenue.

The Sierra Club may also contest air permits, water permits, and siting decisions for gas-fired generators, said Ms. Bender, flagging the impacts “not just at the stack,” but also at upstream gas extraction and transportation infrastructure.

Adding that “the fracking industry now enjoys loopholes and exemptions from our major environmental laws,” Ms. Bender said “we’ll continue to work to close those loopholes, remove the exemptions, and also to fight pipelines.”

More broadly, the Sierra Club aims to “realign the narrative around gas,” to convey the message that “gas is not clean,” Ms. Bender said.

Mr. Bloomberg’s statement that renewables will be cheaper than gas draws on two analyses, said Beyond Carbon program lead Jeremiah Baumann.  In the first study, Indiana utility NIPSCO found that solar, wind, storage, and energy efficiency would cost less than new gas plants, citing an Indianapolis Star news report.  In the second, the Rocky Mountain Institute found that solar, wind, storage, and demand flexibility would be more cost-effective than gas plants in 3 of 4 cases, and also in the 4th case with modest further cost declines for renewables—”which are already cheaper than when the study was done last year,” said Mr. Baumann.

As Beyond Carbon may be viewed as an extension of the Beyond Coal campaign—an earlier Bloomberg/Sierra Club partnership—Ms. Bender noted the success of the coal campaign to date.  She said that 289 coal-fired generators have been shut down or have an announced retirement date, and noted that utilities are no longer proposing coal-fired units.  “We have to do the same thing that we’ve done on coal with gas,” she said.

Beyond Carbon has three additional goals to promote renewables: close coal plants by 2030; achieve new state-level renewables incentives and mandates by supporting elected officials and environmental groups pursuing these goals (as in Colorado); and help elect state and local climate champions, “because climate change is now first and foremost a political problem.”

The Sierra Club compiled its list of proposed gas-fired generators based on U.S. Energy Information Agency data, and utility integrated resource plans.

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