Study: Natural Gas Plants Release 40 Percent Less CO2

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A new study confirms previous findings that power plants fueled by natural gas release some 40 percent less carbon dioxide than coal-fired plants.

According to the new study, conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, combined-cycle natural gas power plants, which use a combination of natural gas and recycled exhaust heat, release significantly less greenhouse gases than their coal-fired counterparts.

The report helps solidify findings from the Energy Information Agency that substituting natural gas for coal in power generation helped lower power-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2012.

Emissions from the power sector are now lower by 20-40 percent since 1997 because more and more electricity is coming from these cleaner power plants, lead author Joost de Gouw said.

“That shift in the energy industry meant that power plants, overall, sent 23 percent less CO2 into the atmosphere last year than they would have, had coal been providing about the same fraction of electric power as in 1997,” he said.

The study looked only at pollution that could be measured from power plant stacks and did not examine greenhouse gases or other pollutants that leak into the atmosphere during the production stages of natural gas or through the mining of coal.

Evaluating data collected between 1997 and 2012, the study concluded that coal-based power plants emitted an average of 915 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity produced, while natural gas power plants emitted an average of 549 grams. The study said that combined-cycle natural gas plants emitted 436 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

The U.S. government released a climate action plan in June, outlining the goal of achieving a 17 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Power plants — including natural gas, coal-fired and electrical plants — are responsible for 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency published proposed new carbon emissions standards for power plants that would make it impossible for new coal-fired plants to be built without the implementation of carbon capture and sequestration technology, which is still in its early days.

If finalized, the new standards will boost the future of natural gas-fueled power plants, which can achieve the new emissions standards more readily.

Environmentalists have criticized the EPA’s proposal for being too lax.

“If the EPA is serious about the climate crisis, it needs to be serious about reducing greenhouse pollution from all power plants — regardless of whether they are fueled by gas or coal,” Bill Snape, the senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The bottom line is that we can do better.”

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