Appalachian Basin

Pittsburgh Shows Once Again That Natural Gas and Renewables are Complementary Forces

In the heart of the Marcellus Shale, the Pittsburgh area is proving that natural gas and renewables work well together to supply the region’s consumer and business energy demands.

Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeff Nobers, the executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, highlights the innovations taking place to grow the economy in a sustainable way and specifically mentions the complementary nature of two of the region’s primary energy sources:

“That’s why our vision includes maintaining affordable energy in Western Pennsylvania. That includes innovations like environmentally sustainable, economically responsible cogeneration plants and microgrids, as well as natural gas development.

“Allegheny County made history when Pittsburgh International Airport became the world’s first to be powered by a microgrid, which shows how solar and natural gas can work together to provide reliable and affordable power. At the same time, natural gas produced on the airport’s land helped save the airport from default so that it can now embark on a $1.1 billion renovation.” (emphasis added)

The bottom line is natural gas and renewables are “friends, not foes” because natural gas, while not only a cleaner-burning fuel for power generation, is also dispatchable – meaning that it can be turned on whenever weather conditions aren’t favorable for wind and solar to ensure that consumers and business have a reliable supply of power.

Pittsburgh International Airport lays out the details of the microgrid and its complementary energy system:

“The microgrid is unique because not only will it power both terminals, the airfield, the Hyatt hotel and a Sunoco gas station, it will be fueled in part by the airport’s own natural gas wells drilled on-site and nearly 8,000 solar panels across eight acres.”

Image via Pittsburgh National Airport

Nobers also criticized the Biden Administration’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline and implement an illegal leasing ban on oil and natural gas production on federal lands, and that innovation – as seen in Pittsburgh – is needed to meet our energy and environmental goals:

“The Pittsburgh model can help fill this gap. It draws on lessons learned from our state’s history of abundant natural resources and industrial evolution. Pennsylvania natural gas helped reduce emissions in the state as much as 92 percent since 1990, per a 2019 analysis. Government restrictions didn’t produce that outcome; industry, market forces, and smart policies did.”

It’s not just in Pennsylvania where business leaders are seeing the value of linking up natural gas and renewables. In Colorado, the state’s largest power utility, Xcel, is following the same complementary model:

“Xcel, like other utilities, hopes to use natural gas to supply reliable power even as renewable sources fluctuate with the weather. … The proposed plan from Xcel Energy calls for 1,300 megawatts in ‘dispatchable’ generation to balance the power supply.”

Likewise, in Florida, Gulf Power announced last year it was transitioning generator units from coal to natural gas, enabling the electric utility to reduce its carbon footprint at the facility by 40 percent, while at the same time installing 30 million solar panels throughout the state. Again, that utility highlighted the complementary nature of the two fuels:

“We look forward to continuing to invest in cleaner energy solutions for Northwest Florida, including more efficient natural gas technology as well as emissions-free solar farms.”

The Pittsburgh example – along with those in Colorado and Florida – show once again why the Washington Post proclaims that it “Turns out wind and solar have a secret friend: Natural gas.”

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