Harvard Study: Cheap Natural Gas Decreased 2009 Climate Emissions

A new report attributes a 9% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's power plants in 2009 to the relatively cheap price of generating electricity from natural gas versus coal.

While the economic recession is credited with a nationwide decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 7% in 2009, a new report, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, provides a different explanation for the decrease found in the electricity generation sector.

"A Harvard University release reports that in the United States, the power sector is responsible for 40 percent of all carbon emissions. In 2009, CO2 emissions from power generation dropped by 8.76 percent. Harvard researchers attribute that change to the new abundance of cheap natural gas."

"Generating 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity from coal releases twice as much CO2 to the atmosphere as generating the same amount from natural gas, so a slight shift in the relative prices of coal and natural gas can result in a sharp drop in carbon emissions," explains Michael B. McElroy, Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who led the study. "That's what we saw in 2009," he says, "and we may well see it again."

E&E did report one warning included in the study, and a recommendation from the lead researcher to address it:

"...although the abundance of natural gas is lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions today, McElroy said the glut of gas could make it harder for America to continue to cut its global warming pollution.

"Long term, it's not good news," he said. "It's going to make gas much more competitive than renewable energy."

"To help make wind, solar and other renewable sources of electricity more competitive, the Harvard study recommended that the federal government impose a carbon tax of $5 per ton of carbon dioxide. The report said that fee would increase electricity prices by 0.3 cents per kilowatt and contribute $12 billion in revenue to the federal treasury."

Thanks to E&E Publishing- EnergyWire

Full Story: Cheaper natural gas leads to reduced U.S. carbon emissions


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