The proposed natural gas plant would lead to an increase in global warming.
SEPTA officials argue that the plant would be good for the climate, since it would allow SEPTA to reduce the amount of electricity it buys from coal-fired power plants. There is strong evidence, however, that using natural gas to generate electricity will produce as much global warming over the next several decades as burning coal, and perhaps even more. And even if natural gas had a somewhat smaller climate impact than coal, building this plant would still be a bad choice.
There are two main ways that the plant would contribute to climate change: Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Methane Leaks.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions — When natural gas is burned, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the primary cause of global warming. Though natural gas plants emit 40% less carbon dioxide than coal plants for each unit of electricity, natural gas is still a high carbon source of energy. In comparison, the use of wind turbines and solar panels produces minimal carbon dioxide pollution.
Methane Leaks — As natural gas is extracted from the ground, transported, and used, a significant amount leaks into the air at every step along the way. Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Though methane is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere, it is the second most important contributor to global warming. Per ton, methane has 86 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over the next 20 years.
As a result, scientists project that natural gas will have a worse effect on the climate than coal if the leakage rate is only 2.8%. Researchers estimate that the rate of leakage across the industry is considerably higher. SEPTA has not considered the impact of methane leaks in its planning process. Just as importantly, the agency has not compared natural gas with renewable energy.In order to preserve a livable climate, we urgently need to replace all fossil fuels–including coal, oil, and natural gas–with renewable energy sources that contribute much less to global warming, like solar and wind. A historic transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is beginning, and we need SEPTA to join in that transition as quickly as possible.
Building the natural plant would delay SEPTA’s shift to clean, renewable energy for many years. If SEPTA builds the natural gas plant, it will be locked into using gas until at least 2038.
Global warming has already led to an increase in dangerous heat waves, floods, sea levels, droughts, and destructive storms. We are facing a worldwide emergency, and the choices that we make now will determine how much the planet heats up over hundreds of years. We cannot build any new fossil fuel infrastructure if we want to avert the worst effects of climate change.