Op-ed: A diversified, hybrid approach is the best way to meet emissions goals

August 15, 2022

Philip DeCicco | July 06, 2022

Last week a representative of the Sane Energy Project and No North Brooklyn Pipeline penned an opinion piece for Crain’s that leveled numerous bad-faith attacks against National Grid’s plan for an equitable clean energy transition in New York. Without evidence, the piece claimed National Grid stands in the way of New York’s climate change mitigation goals.

The opposite is true.

The fact is National Grid’s vision would exceed the decarbonization benchmarks set out in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Equally important, it keeps energy prices affordable and maintains reliable service.

National Grid’s vision for a fossil-free future is built on three pillars: increasing energy efficiency; supporting widespread adoption of non-gas energy sources, including targeted electrification powered by renewable sources, such as wind and solar; and replacing fossil fuels with clean alternatives, such as renewable natural gas and green hydrogen.

This hybrid approach is the most realistic, efficient and cost-effective way to meet our emissions goals. Millions of households rely on natural gas for heating, hot water, cooking and drying laundry. Thousands of businesses also rely on natural gas. Hospitals rely on the gas network as an emergency backup source of power.

Many of these homes and businesses cannot be electrified and, for those that can, the costs of retrofitting existing buildings and replacing appliances and machinery that rely on gas power are significant. In addition, the investments in generation and transmission infrastructure needed to electrify these homes and businesses far outweigh the costs of maintaining, improving and decarbonizing our existing gas network.

The costs of electric

For these reasons, the potential economic impacts of pursuing an electrification-only approach are daunting. The costs of retrofitting homes and apartments will likely increase already-high housing prices, with a disproportionate impact on historically disadvantaged communities. At the same time, rising electricity rates and expensive equipment conversions will increase the already-high cost of doing business in New York, potentially driving companies to relocate out of state.

A diversified approach

Even if we wanted to, we cannot electrify every building in New York with only renewable energy. The New York Independent System Operator 2022 Power Trends Report emphasizes that wind and solar cannot provide all the energy New Yorkers require and that the gap between the amount of energy New York needs and the amount renewable sources can supply will widen as we rely more on electricity.

The city’s Pathways to Carbon-Neutral NYC study, commissioned by the mayor’s Office of Sustainability, found that a high-electrification approach to meeting the goals of the climate leadersip-community protection act is not only more expensive than a diversified approach that incorporates fossil-free fuels, but it is also less effective, achieving a lower net reduction in emissions.

National Grid’s vision avoids these problems by incorporating fossil-free fuels as a complement to renewable electricity. Renewable natural gas is produced through a process that captures methane from landfills, farms, wastewater treatment plants and other sources and repurposes it as fossil-free fuel.

Because methane is one of the most potent and plentiful greenhouse gasses, removing it from the atmosphere is vital. Green hydrogen is another important fossil-free fuel produced by separating hydrogen out of the water molecule, leaving only water vapor behind.

Investing in fossil-free fuels as part of a diversified clean energy portfolio, instead of relying on a single solution, will allow us to meet the critical climate change mitigation goals set out in the climate leadership-community protection act without imposing unsustainable costs on New Yorkers and businesses.

Philip DeCicco is vice president and deputy general counsel of National Grid.