Report: Natural Gas Does Not Provide Bridge to Clean Energy Future

Advocacy group maintains building new pipelines and other gas infrastructure means carbon emissions will be around for decades

natural gas pipeline
A new study aims to dispel the notion that natural gas could be a bridge to a clean-energy future, suggesting it will instead undermine the Murphy administration’s goal to sharply curb climate-warming carbon emissions.

The report by Oil Change International, an advocacy group promoting renewable energy, recommends phasing out gas and other fossil fuels immediately if New Jersey wants to comply with state laws requiring 100-percent clean energy by 2050 and an 80-percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

The report aims to bolster the case for blocking the expansion of natural-gas infrastructure in the state, a scenario occurring at the same time that a wide range of clean-energy projects — including offshore wind, energy efficiency and electrifying the transportation system — are under review by the administration.

“New Jersey is now a poster child for proposed fossil-fuel infrastructure that is not needed,’’ said Barb Blumenthal, research director for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, referring to proposals to build new natural-gas pipelines and gas-fired power plants across the state.

It points to the dilemma facing policymakers on how to juggle competing priorities to supplying the public with clean but affordable energy. On the one hand, the administration and clean-energy advocates want to shift away from climate-changing fossil fuels but officials fear the loss of a cheap source of energy that has lowered heating and electric bills and helped revive a manufacturing economy still recovering from a decade-old recession.

BPU head sees role for gas, nuke power

The issue is likely to spark more heated debate in the near future as the state Board of Public Utilities is expected to issue a draft Energy Master Plan this summer on how to achieve Gov. Phil Murphy’s goal for New Jersey to be powered by 100-percent clean energy by 2050.

Many environmental organizations are lobbying the administration for an immediate moratorium on all new fossil-fuel projects, an unlikely outcome given repeated statements from BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso. The commissioner, who was unanimously confirmed for another term leading the state’s utility-regulating agency by the Senate yesterday, said he views natural gas, along with nuclear power, as a bridge fuel.

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The natural-gas study, released jointly at a press conference in Trenton with ReThink Energy NJ, argues that any new gas infrastructure locks in carbon emissions for years, because multi-billion dollar fossil-fuel infrastructure is designed to operate for decades.

As many as nine natural-gas pipeline expansions and four new gas-fired power plants have been proposed around New Jersey, most of which face intense local opposition.

Blumenthal argued New Jersey already has excess pipeline capacity and building new pipelines, as many utilities have proposed, will be needed even less as the state transitions to a cleaner energy future. New Jersey already has excess pipeline capacity to meet its needs, even through extreme cold periods, she said.

“We can build an affordable energy system around wind and solar,’’ said Lorne Stockman, the author of the report. Low-cost renewable sources of energy can displace coal and gas, he added, particularly with the ongoing cost declines for renewables, some of which are already cheaper to build and operate than fossil fuels in most markets.

“Any way you slice it — be it cost reliability or climate — gas is a loser and it’s time to move on,’’ Stockman said.

But when asked about a moratorium, Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ, demurred. A more long-standing solution would be for the state to exercise its authority under various permitting programs to block unneeded gas projects.