Thursday, April 12, 2012

Southern Company Leading Nation in Switching From Coal To Gas: Shocking Numbers

If there is an electric generation company that has switched in the last 3 years more power generation from coal to natural gas than the Southern Company, I would be shocked.

As reported in yesterday's WSJ, at page 3 by Russell Gold and 2 colleagues:

"In 2008, when gas prices still were high, Southern got almost 70% of its electricity from coal. Today, it is getting less than half as much power from its coal fleet.  Gas-fired plants now are responsible for 46% of its electricity, up from about 16% four years ago."

 Nationally gas in 2012 will provide 29% of all electricity, according to the latest EIA data, so Southern Company has moved from getting less electricity from gas than the national average three years ago to now getting much more than the national average.

EIA further projects that coal will provide 38% of America's electricity in 2012 and apparently Southern may get less than 38% of its electricity from coal, when it got 70% from coal, just three years ago.

These numbers are made more stunning by the fact that Southern Company is America's largest electric utility by some measures.

Make no mistake that this massive switching from coal to gas cut substantially the mercury, soot, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon dioxide emissions from Southern's plants.

Make no mistake that the shale gas revolution made those pollution reductions possible by making natural gas cheaper than coal.

Has anything done more to clean America's air in the last 3 years than natural gas? Booming wind power and energy efficiency also have avoided substantial pollution but probably not as much as natural gas, given the massive coal to gas switching.

By displacing substantial coal generation often from the oldest coal plants with no pollution controls, natural gas has been a big bridge to less pollution and illness over the last decade and especially since the shale gas boom in 2008.  Before supporting bans on shale gas, environmentalists should face these facts.

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