July 25, 2018 Read More →

Study: Midwest generation can be carbon-free by 2050

MPR News:

A group of utilities, state regulators and environmental groups released a report Tuesday showing it’s possible — with existing technology — for electricity generation in the midcontinent to be carbon-free by 2050.

Relatively speaking, the electricity sector has done better than other parts of the economy in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Still, in 13 states looked at by the Great Plains Institute, 77 percent of the electricity comes from coal and natural gas. So, how do you get from 77 percent to zero?

“Essentially that means more wind, more solar, more energy efficiency,” said Franz Litz, a program consultant with the Great Plains Institute. “It also means really thinking hard about those existing nuclear plants, which don’t have air emissions and could be an important part of the mix when we get out to 2050 and need to be generating our electricity without putting carbon into the air.”

Litz says the models the group used didn’t try to guess on what types of new technology might be available by midcentury. The point was to show that decarbonizing is possible with existing technology.

But the economics of transitioning away from fossil fuels for electricity generation is where it gets complicated and uncertain. For example, the report says the system will probably need to keep using natural gas — only with carbon capture technology, in which waste carbon is stored and prevented from escaping into the atmosphere.

But James Gignac of the Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the groups that participated in the report, says we shouldn’t start building a bunch of natural gas plants. “It’s really critical right now that the power companies, utilities and stakeholders take a hard look at the economics of investing in natural gas, especially compared to the cost decline in what we’re seeing with renewables and storage,” he said.

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