Report: Natural Gas Necessary for New England’s Clean Energy Future

Mon, November 23, 2020

A new analysis of New England’s energy portfolio concludes that natural gas will be critical to the region’s energy mix if it would like to balance reliability, affordability and achieve its goals of reducing carbon emissions. Historically, New England has been resistant to expanding its natural gas capacity, but the data are clear: to meet future energy demand and its environmental goals, the region must steer clear of opposition to this clean-burning fuel.

The report was written by Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. (E3) and the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) to assess how New England’s electrical system could meet the growing electrical demand and achieve net-zero emissions. With electrical demand set to increase from 60% to 90% of current capacity in the coming years due to increased electrification, the study found that natural gas is a required source of firm capacity in the region and is consistent with achieving reduced electrical grid emissions by 2050. 

Natural gas has already reduced CO2 emissions in New England over a 10-year period from 2009-2018. Including natural gas with carbon capture in the region’s energy planning will continue this emission reduction trend, while shoring up the intermittency of renewable power generation. The report writes: 

“The availability of low carbon firm generation technologies – such as advanced nuclear or natural gas with CCS [carbon capture & storage] – could provide significant cost savings and reduce the pressure of renewable development on New England’s lands and coastal waters.”

Having natural gas as a dedicated, reliable energy source is vital to the northeast, which suffers both from harsh winters and the highest electricity prices in the contiguous United States. New Englanders don’t need to be told what a lack of dedicated supply and a harsh winter could do; they already experienced it. In 2018, an extended polar vortex dropped temperatures dramatically and forced New Englanders to pay nearly $100 million more for electricity to heat their homes. 

Affordability in this region poses a serious financial threat to many residents if electricity prices go up.Cold temperatures can put individuals who are older, lower income and in poorer health at greater risk.Without natural gas, the terrible dilemma many households will face is “heat or eat.”

But things don’t have to be this way, and there is plenty of supply to meet growing demand in New England and throughout the world.

Some in New England have opposed pipeline expansion for years, arguing that it will “lock in” continued fossil fuel use. New England’s current policies on pipelines hurt families by increasing energy costs – and this report affirms that rejecting affordable, reliable natural gas will only continue to hurt low-income and disadvantaged communities in the future. Pipelines are not “locking in” emissions, but unlocking the benefits of renewables by ensuring grid reliability and electricity affordability. 

Through natural gas, New England can start breaking ground on an energy portfolio that meets the states’ ambitious climate goals, keeps the lights on, and provides affordable energy for families.