NC governor, other U.S. leaders urged to issue moratorium on new pipelines, power plants by Duke Energy and other major utilities
An internationally prominent expert on methane’s impacts on the climate crisis is urging NC Governor Roy Cooper and other U.S. leaders to declare a permanent moratorium on the rapid expansion of natural gas used for electricity generation. Dr. Drew Shindell, a long-time climatologist at NASA and a coordinating lead author of last year’s Special Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says the climate and public health costs of methane – a potent greenhouse gas and the dominant component of natural gas – make gas expansions too damaging to continue with.
In addition, he points out that renewable energy matched with storage is now cheaper than gas-fired electricity – even counting only direct costs – making gas expansions an unnecessary harm to the climate and to public health. In a letter sent today in response to the governor’s new Clean Energy Plan, Shindell told Cooper the plan is seriously flawed because it would allow the addition of large amounts of fossil fuels.
At a press tele-conference today, Dr. Shindell, now Nicholas Professor of Earth Science at Duke University, said, “The time is now to stop building more fossil fuel infrastructure across the nation. We’re urging Gov. Cooper to take the lead by halting new pipelines and power plants in North Carolina.” Charlotte-based Duke Energy, one of the largest U.S. energy corporations, plans to build the equivalent of 30 large natural gas-fired power plants over the next 15 years in the Carolinas alone.
Dr. Shindell says methane has been the largest contributor to the worldwide failure to stabilize the climate below internationally agreed-upon targets. Also, he cites research finding that the U.S. fracked gas boom is likely an important contributor to the recent surge in atmospheric methane.
“There is no way new natural gas is compatible with the IPCC analysis,” Dr. Shindell explained today. The IPCC calls for net zero carbon emissions by around 2050, implying developed nations need to be net zero by 2040. He called on leaders in all states to declare a moratorium on new natural gas infrastructure. “The global community needs true leadership at this critical time,” he added.
The letter to Gov. Cooper was co-signed by 27 former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency professionals including Dale Evarts, who recently retired as a climate and international air quality official at the agency. “Duke Energy recently announced that it would be at net zero emissions by 2050, but that is directly contradicted by its plans to keep building dozens of fracked gas power plants and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Evarts said.
Dr. Shindell explained that the IPCC’s target doesn’t allow for large new CO2 sources, but he emphasized that the effect of natural gas is even worse. Methane has a much stronger climate impact than CO2. Before being burned, some gas leaks and is intentionally vented during drilling, storage, and transport to end users. Dr. Shindell says if as little as 1-3 percent is released, gas is potentially much worse for the climate than coal.
“The bulk of methane emissions from natural gas,” Shindell said today, “occur before the fuel reaches the power plant. Those upstream emissions are significant and dangerous, and states importing gas are in part responsible for the methane emissions because they are creating the market for the fuel.”
Recent analyses indicate that worldwide methane emissions due to human activities lead to about 165,000 premature deaths annually, including 10,000 in the U.S. Dr. Shindell calculates that together, societal damage from CO2 and methane emissions combined raise the true cost of electricity generated using gas to more than double the cost of solar or onshore wind, based on U.S. Dept. of Energy statistics.
In addition to health impacts and possibly irreparable climate damage, Dr. Shindell points out that new natural gas infrastructure poses a significant economic risk. The rapid decline in costs means renewable energy generation will likely be lower than the cost of 90% of the gas plants proposed in the U.S. by the time those plants are built and put into service.
Dale Evarts added today, “Any new gas infrastructure utilities build will likely become uncompetitive and end up as stranded assets that customers or corporate shareholders will have to pay for. States and utilities who want to be genuine climate leaders will accelerate the shift away from fracked gas and the dangerous methane that comes with it. And by doing so, they can join those already creating thousands of good jobs in the rapidly growing renewable energy sector.”