ALBANY – National Grid, whose utility region includes much of upstate New York, boasts a “hybrid way” to have gas and electricity networks free of traditional fossil fuels by 2050.
The company says its plan designed for New York and Massachusetts allows consumers to choose while dealing with worsening climate change. It would replace fossil fuels with methane and hydrogen while expanding the use of heat pumps and geothermal district heating to maximize energy efficiency.
“Just as we are investing in renewables like wind and solar to decarbonize the energy that travels through our electricity grid, we are committed to decarbonizing our gas grid by switching it completely to renewable natural gas and hydrogen by 2050 or before”, said John Pettigrew, chief executive of National Grid.
National Grid, by releasing its plan, intervened in the ongoing discussion of the state’s Climate Action Council, which has circulated its draft plan to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York. The company says that while it will stop using fossil gas by 2050, it will harvest methane from landfills and dairy farms.
The Climate Action Council wants to ban the use of natural gas in new homes, in a bid to make new buildings dependent on electrification. Currently, approximately 60% of New York homes are heated with natural gas.
Aggressive climate targets in New York and Massachusetts threaten to render the current National Grid infrastructure – the pipeline networks carrying natural gas – obsolete.
The National Grid plan is already facing criticism from environmental activists who say it falls short of the decarbonisation goal because it relies on methane, an ingredient in natural gas.
“I think what National Grid has put out there really misses the mark,” said Conor Bambrick, director of climate policy for Environmental Advocates, an Albany advocacy group. “It’s not in line with New York’s climate law. And what they’ve done is basically try to keep their current business model and somehow enforce it to accommodate the climate law when that’s not all simply not the case.
National Grid insists its plans are in line with the climate goals of the states in which it operates.
“Combined with targeted electrification and improved energy efficiency, a 100% fossil-free gas grid can deliver a cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable energy future for more than 20 million people in New York and Massachusetts,” the company said when announcing its plan.
Gavin Donohue, president of the Independent Power Producers of New York and member of the Climate Action Council, said he welcomed National Grid’s contribution, noting that he was “Encouraged by all the talk of alternatives to the current draft plan.”
National Grid would continue to use its pipelines but replace natural gas with recovered methane and hydrogen developed from its wind assets through electrolysis.
Several unions, concerned about the job impacts of the state’s draft climate plan, have closely followed a series of public hearings on the issue.
In a statement accompanying National Grid’s announcement, Pat Guidice, business manager of IBEW Local 1049, representing some 10,000 utility workers in New York, said the company’s plan “will ensure that well-paying jobs for generations to come will be protected while ensuring the generation and reliable delivery of energy that will bring comfort and security to the lives of our neighbours.”
New York is striving to have 70% of its electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2040.
In a related development, the New York Power Authority announced that it had sold more than $608 million in green bonds to fund the development of two major transmission projects that are expected to reduce millions of tons of carbon emissions.
One of them, Smart Path, involves 78 miles of transmission circuit from St. Lawrence County to Lewis County.
The second, Central East Energy Connect, involves new transmission lines and substations between Marcy in the Mohawk Valley and the town of New Scotland in Albany County.