ALBANY — National Grid, whose utility service region includes a large swath of upstate New York, is touting a “hybrid pathway” for having gas and electric networks that are free of traditional fossil fuels by 2050.
The company says its plan designed for New York and Massachusetts enables consumer choice while confronting worsening climate change. It would replace fossil fuels with methane and hydrogen while expanding the use of heat pumps and neighborhood geothermal heating to maximize energy efficiency.
“Just as we are investing in renewables like wind and solar to decarbonize the energy running through our electric network, we are committing to decarbonize our gas network by transitioning it completely to renewable natural gas and hydrogen by 2050 or sooner,” said John Pettigrew, National Grid’s chief executive officer.
National Grid, in releasing its plan, stepped into the ongoing discussion by the state’s Climate Action Council, which has been circulating its draft plan to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York. The company says that while it will stop using fossil fuel gas by 2050, it would harvest methane from landfills and dairy farms.
The Climate Action Council wants to ban the use of natural gas in new homes, with the goal of having new buildings rely on electrification. Currently, an estimated 60% of New York homes are heated by natural gas.
The aggressive climate targets of New York and Massachusetts threaten to make National Grid’s current infrastructure — networks of pipelines carrying natural gas — obsolete.
‘MISSES THE MARK’
National Grid’s blueprint is already encountering criticism from environmental activists who argue that it does not achieve the goal of decarbonization as it relies on methane, an ingredient of natural gas.
“I think that 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 compliant with New York’s climate law. And what they’ve done is essentially tried to keep their current business model and make it somehow apply to fit the climate law when it really just doesn’t.”
National Grid insists its plans are consistent with the climate goals of the states in which it operates.
“Combined with targeted electrification and enhanced energy efficiency, a 100% fossil-free gas network can deliver a clean energy future that is more affordable and more reliable to over 20 million people across New York and Massachusetts,” the company said in announcing its plan.
Gavin Donohue, the president of the Independent Power Producers of New York and a member of the Climate Action Council, said he welcomes the input from National Grid, noting he is “encouraged by anything that talks about 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 turbine assets through electrolysis.
Several trade unions, concerned about the job impacts of the state’s draft climate plan, have been following a series of public hearings on the issue closely.
In a statement that accompanied the National Grid announcement, Pat Guidice, business manager for IBEW Local 1049, representing some 10,000 utility workers across New York, said the company’s plan “will ensure that good-paying jobs for generations to come will be protected while ensuring the production and reliable delivery of energy that will bring comfort and safety to the lives of our neighbors.”
New York is striving to have 70% of its electricity supply come from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2040.
In a related development, the New York Power Authority announced it has sold more than $608 million in green bonds to finance the development of two large transmission projects that are estimated to reduce millions of tons in carbon emissions.
One of them, Smart Path, involves 78 circuit miles of transmission 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.