New England carbon emissions rise as power plants switch to dirtier fuel

BOSTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) – The New England power grid caused a massive explosion of greenhouse gases into the air of the region during a recent spell of cold weather, as power plants are from natural gas to dirtier but cheaper fuel oil, according to data from the grid operator.

In the six weeks ended Feb. 7, the region’s power plant fleet burned 1.7 million barrels of fuel oil, which represents more than 10% of the grid’s electrical capacity, according to ISO New England. Fuel oil generally accounts for less than 1% of the region’s electricity production.

The burning of this fuel oil produced an estimated 3.55 billion pounds of greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide in January alone, up 4,800% from fuel oil emissions in January 2021, according to estimates from emission rates used by ISO-NE emissions analysts. Total network carbon dioxide emissions totaled around 8.8 billion pounds in January, up 44% from the year-ago period. ISO-NE said the estimates are high averages based on individual fuel types.

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Natural gas is the region’s primary fuel source, but many generators switch to other fuels if gas becomes too expensive or supplies are unavailable.

The price of natural gas has climbed globally in recent months, in part due to increased demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Europe, which is trying to replenish low inventories and ensure adequate supplies as tensions are rising between Russia and Ukraine.

New England gas pipeline capacity is also limited, making it difficult to speed up deliveries to the region when needed. A series of proposals to increase this capacity to increase supply have been rejected in recent years due to public opposition to new pipeline infrastructure.

As the weather has recently warmed in New England, grid officials are concerned that power generators in the region will continue to struggle to access enough fuel to cover heating and other demands during the rest of the winter.

The most recent network fuel survey for the six-state area showed dwindling fuel oil inventories and a slow replenishment rate.

“Refueling resources is essential to ensure energy adequacy for the remainder of the winter,” the ISO said. Colder temperatures are expected later in February and the ISO is conducting fuel surveys twice a week instead of once a week. .

The region’s power grid wobbled in early January when cold weather caused unexpected outages at several power plants and transmission lines. The ISO had issued an operational alert and called for more production resources to maintain power.

With natural gas prices soaring in New England, several Democratic senators, mostly from the area, this month sent a letter to US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm urging the administration of President Joe Biden to reassess LNG exports.

The United States is on track to become the world’s largest exporter of super-chilled fuel by 2022, overtaking current leaders Australia and Qatar.

Low pipeline capacity puts New England at the mercy of global gas markets, which can be disrupted by extreme weather and geopolitical tensions, and makes a switch to more carbon-intensive fuels like diesel more likely. oil.

“With record LNG prices this winter, we are likely seeing more economic change than normal,” said Troy Vincent, senior market analyst at research firm DTN Markets.

When fuel oil is used for generation in New England, CO2 emissions can reach 3,670 pounds per megawatt hour of electricity. In contrast, CO2 emissions from natural gas are about 886 pounds per megawatt hour.

In January, fuel oil made up about 11% of New England’s overall generator energy mix, peaking at 21% on January 16, according to ISO data.

This isn’t the first time New England has been forced to rely heavily on dirtier fuel oil.

In January 2018, during a prolonged cold snap. The network’s fleet of gas-fired power stations started burning oil after failing to get enough gas. Carbon dioxide emissions more than doubled to a daily average of 220,000 tonnes during this period, from 100,000 tonnes per day before the cold snap, ISO officials said.

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Additional reporting by Laura Sanicola in Washington DC; Editing by David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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