New gasworks for power co-ops ignite, highlighting bumpy road to renewables | Environment

The natural gas-fired Magnolia power plant proposed for Iberville Parish would be an important cog in a plan of five Louisiana rural electric co-ops to provide reliable, cheap electricity through 2045, funders say. His detractors are worried.

State utility regulators recently gave their approval to the groundbreaking 20-year power plan for the 119,000 co-op customers who, in addition to Magnolia Power, would rely heavily on renewable energy.

Under the new deal, more than a third of electricity would come from renewable sources, but local environmental groups say the plan doesn’t do enough with renewables given the serious threat that global climate change represents for southern Louisiana.

Building a new $750 million power plant dependent on fossil fuels, these critics say, would contradict the central goal of Governor John Bel Edwards’ climate task force – net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – by allowing a new source of greenhouse gas emissions and potentially blocking these emissions until 2045.

Although the plant’s backers say it could be replaced by hydrogen which they say would be carbon-free, these critics say the details of when and how that change would happen are vague. and are not included in regulatory documents.

“We’re saying they should be fully renewable, and if they’re going to go with this natural gas plant, they really need to talk seriously about reducing emissions from the plant and…give us some details on this idea that they’re going to. I’m going to switch to 100% hydrogen, a fuel that no place in the world currently produces at 50%,” said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a senior representative for the Sierra Club of New Orleans organization. “It’s a test plant, and we don’t know what that entails.”

Under Edwards, Louisiana proposed a rarity for the Deep South: a plan to reduce the state’s fossil fuel emissions by either eliminating these sources, offsetting them, or storing them underground in an effort to slow climate change. global climate.

A scientific consensus has concluded that emissions from burning fossil fuels send more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The gases are increasing global global temperatures and triggering dynamic changes in climate, ice caps and glaciers that induce sea level rise, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Much of southern Louisiana could see sea level rise of 1.5 feet by 2050 and, in a worst-case scenario, up to 7 feet by 2100, according to the IPCC.

Some of the early central planks of the Edwards task force involve ending greenhouse gas emissions from two main sources: electricity generation and Louisiana’s energy-intensive industrial sector, which has boomed in recent years. thanks to cheap natural gas.

Renewable energies a priority, not a priority

Environmentalists’ criticism of the electric co-op plan, which takes a step towards renewable energy, highlights some of the difficult back and forth this oil-dependent state may face as industries, power plants and the public consider to change the way their world is powered and moved.

Kyle Marionneaux, an attorney for the co-op organization, known as 1803 Electric Cooperative Inc., said the co-ops took bidders for their power plan and a fully renewable option didn’t win. Group members include SLECA and Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative.

“1803 considered a zero-carbon generation portfolio as part of the final portfolio selection; however, the technology is not capable of delivering zero-carbon power without major cost increases,” wrote Puppets in an email Friday.

Even still, under this failed proposal, “large amounts of energy ‘made from carbon’ would be purchased off the grid in this scenario,” he added.

In fact, the plan’s first priority was reliable, low-cost service, followed by minimizing the pricing impacts of market volatility and future environmental regulations.

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Renewable energy use was the ninth of the plan’s top 10 priorities, which would not begin until 2025, when the co-ops’ contracts with Cleco Cajun expire.

The Magnolia Generating Station, which would be built on the west bank of the Mississippi River southeast of Plaquemine, would play an important role in ensuring reliability, along with other fossil fuel-based contracts.

As an added benefit, the new plant would also have the lowest greenhouse gas output of any gas or coal plant in Louisiana or on the grid, Marionneaux said.

“When the Magnolia Power plant reaches commercial operation, it will be the most efficient generator of electricity in the state of Louisiana,” said Jon Baylor, senior vice president of Kindle Energy, who is at origin of the 700 megawatt plant. “Because of this, the plant is expected to replace coal and other low-efficiency generation technologies in the generation market, thereby reducing carbon emissions across the state of Louisiana.”

Even still, the Magnolia Power Plant would be allowed to generate about 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.

The Methanex methanol complex at Geismar, for example, is allowed to emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases each year.

Renewable and reliable?

Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University researcher who has used modeling to predict how states might switch entirely to renewable energy, said he and others have found that a full shift to a stable grid based on renewable energy is more accessible and affordable than many realize.

By increasing offshore wind turbines, rooftop solar panels, distributed battery storage, transmission upgrades and other additions, Jacobson and other researchers found that a complete change in the United States could be effected. at a cost of up to $11 trillion. It would be reimbursed with the energy sales and the savings made by not making the transition.

In a paper published late last year, researchers found that interconnections between larger and larger regions make power supply smoother and cheaper by linking to a wider range of renewable sources that often complement each other.

“You don’t need fossil fuels at all to back up renewables. There’s a lot of low-cost storage out there, and batteries are pretty inexpensive for what you need,” he said.

Jacobson pointed out that California has already established more than 1.7 gigawatts of battery storage. A South Australian energy user said he saved $40 million in the first year of using a large Tesla battery complex.

Sierra Club manager Wiley and others raised concerns about the Magnolia power plant at a recent public hearing in Plaquemine for the plant’s proposed air permit.

In recent years, under Edwards, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials have routinely refused to deny or even reduce greenhouse gas emissions for major new industrial projects.

They often cited a lack of federal guidance and argued that the global impact of greenhouse gas emissions undermines efficiency and the wisdom to stop projects that are economically beneficial locally.

DEQ officials said Friday they are reviewing all comments before a final decision is made.