The May 23 opinion page article about how "Natural gas and wind energy killed coal" made a good point. That argument can also be extended to the question of what will replace the natural gas that's now replacing coal. Utility companies are looking at how to replace the electricity generation from coal and gas plants that now produce about half of the nation's power, but are scheduled to retire by 2030. Should they invest billions in new gas-powered plants?
A new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute, "The Economics of Clean Energy Portfolios," says that U.S. electricity generators may be committing their customers and investors to as much as $1 trillion in future investment and fuel costs through 2030 to build new gas-fired power plants. But when Xcel Energy solicited bids this winter for new power sources, renewable-energy developers offered to supply electricity at the lowest prices quoted in the U.S., including solar and wind options with energy storage priced below what coal-generated power in the state costs.
As the cost of renewable energy resources continues to drop, the economic scenario for power plants fueled by natural gas will put them in the same bind that coal-powered plants now face. Advances in renewable energy and distributed energy resources (DERs) offer lower rates and emissions-free energy while delivering all the grid reliability services that new power plants can, according to RMI's report. By investing in wind- and solar-powered electricity we could circumvent that trillion dollars in investment in gas-powered plants so that in 12 years we're not reading an article in the DCI about how "Renewable resources killed natural gas."