Natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel with additional environmental benefits over other energy sources when used for electricity and heat production.
Burning natural gas results in very low emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide – reducing acid rain and smog – and virtually no emissions of mercury or particulates (soot), making it among the cleanest ways to generate electricity. Accounting for emissions from fuel production through transportation and conversion, efficient natural gas power plants produce half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal-fired plants.
The modern fleet of U.S. natural gas-fired generating plants operates at just 42 percent of capacity. Utilizing these plants to displace coal-fired power generation is the fastest and most economical path to significant carbon emission reductions. Building and operating new efficient natural gas power plants to replace coal, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, costs about 40 percent less than new wind generation. Producing electricity from natural gas is highly efficient and requires smaller, less costly pieces of equipment. Also, natural gas does not require the capital equipment and operating costs to reduce air emissions, or the need to dispose of solid waste, that coal-fired plants do.
Other Environmental Benefits
In addition to reduced air emissions, natural gas has other environmental benefits that make it a smart fuel choice. For instance, natural gas-fired power plants use about 60 percent less water than coal plants and 75 percent less water than nuclear power plants for the same electricity output. In addition, natural gas-fired power plants require the least amount of land per megawatt of capacity versus other new power generation options. Wind and solar require 20 times more land to power the same number of homes as a natural gas-fired power plant.
Natural gas for power production avoids some of the challenges facing wind, solar, biofuels and nuclear power generation technologies, such as visual impact, competing land uses, bird strikes and waste disposal. No other electricity generation source can respond as rapidly to fluctuations in U.S. consumer electricity demand as natural gas. Another benefit is that natural gas-fired generation reliably backs up wind- and solar-generated electricity when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine.
Natural gas is the fastest and most economical path to significantly reducing U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide from power generation, while minimizing our impact on the land and use of our water resources. The many environmental benefits in accelerating the use of natural gas is another reason why we believe natural gas should be an important part of America's energy future.