Washington, D.C., July 7, 2010 — The American Public Power Association today released the results of a new study that for the first time examines the necessary new infrastructure investments and other implications on natural gas and deliveries to electric utilities should new rules from Congress or EPA limiting carbon emissions or other pollutants result in a shift away from coal toward natural gas to generate electricity.
“This study raises questions and concerns about the significant hurdles utilities would face converting from coal to natural gas in the face of these regulations. Other studies have addressed supply. We commissioned this study because we are concerned about just how utilities would extract, store, and move natural gas to where it is needed in a reliable, sustainable, affordable and environmentally sound way. It strongly suggests that policymakers will need to take a fresh look at the regulations and incentives to make sure the problems identified in this study are addressed going forward,” Crisson said.
Titled “Implications of Greater Reliance on Natural Gas for Electricity Generation,” the report takes a detailed look at natural gas demand, supply, transmission and storage infrastructure, and the operational considerations that electric utilities will need to take into account if carbon emission rules require a switch from coal to natural gas.
Investments in pipeline capacity to meet the additional natural gas demand will need to total about $348 billion should all coal fired generation need to be replaced with natural gas. The magnitude of this investment is inconsistent with the much-touted idea of natural gas as a temporary “bridge fuel.”
Storage capacity will need to increase by 1.4 Tcf at a cost of close to $12.5 billion and geology limits the opportunities for siting new storage facilities.
Operational considerations such as the requirement to nominate natural gas in advance of its use, curtailments that must occur should supply or pipeline capacity run short, or unforeseen events such as hurricanes, which could increase natural gas prices or restrict supply, are further obstacles to fuel switching.
Certain areas of the country, such as the East Coast and Central Plains states, have significantly more storage and capacity problems than other areas.
While conventional wisdom says that you can retrofit existing coal fired units to burn natural gas, virtually all conversions achieved to date have been replacement units, not retrofits.
The cost to build new gas fired units to replace existing coal units would be in the range of $330 billion. This amount does not include the cost of outstanding debt utilities have incurred in building their existing fleet of coal-fired power plants.
If all existing coal fired generation were to switch to natural gas, overall demand for natural gas would increase from 23 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) per year to 36 TCF per year, a nearly 50 percent increase, with two-thirds of it serving electric power plants, up from just under one-third today.
Supplies of natural gas are adequate to meet demand but the cost of those supplies to serve demand levels will be potentially much higher than today.
Potential EPA regulations governing techniques such as hydraulic fracturing could impact both the cost and supply of natural gas.
The study, commissioned by APPA with support from the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG), was conducted by Catherine (Katie) Elder, senior associate, Energy and Resource Analysis, at the Aspen Environmental Group.
Ms. Elder has more than 25 years of experience in the natural gas and electricity industries and has reviewed fuel plans and prepared natural gas market assessments for more than 40 natural gas-fired power projects around the country.
Based in Washington, D.C., APPA is the national service organization for the nation’s more than 2,000 community- and state-owned not-for-profit electric utilities serving 45 million customers.