Duke University rethinking construction of natural gas facility

Taking a step back to evaluate their options:

For a university that has always been protective of its global reputation, contributing to global greenhouse gases through a natural gas plant is no way to burnish that image. That’s one of the conclusions of a Duke University Campus Sustainability Subcommittee, which released a report on a proposed combined heat-and- power natural gas plant today.

As a result, university Executive Vice President Tallman Trask announced that the board of trustees won’t vote as scheduled on a new $55 million, 21-megawatt combined heat and power natural gas plant on campus.

It's good they're taking a long, hard look at this project. I was going to say, "It's about time," but I don't want to look a gift academic horse in the mouth. But timeliness aside, there was one particular point I was looking for in the Subcommittee's report, and I found it:

Specifically with respect to the calculation of the CHP plant’s effect on the University’s baseline emissions, a subset of subcommittee members met to consider whether the original emission reductions identified in the University’s calculations were overstated because they did not account for the University’s “ownership” of the electricity generation plus did not account for methane/natural gas leakage associated with the extraction and transport of the gas.

When presented with the emission calculation group’s perspective, the subcommittee agreed to make the recommended changes to the emissions methodology, and recommend to the Campus Sustainability Committee to adopt those changes. By including those revisions, the subcommittee determined that the CHP plant, as proposed and assuming that it would be powered only by conventional, fossil-derived natural gas, would reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10,000 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalents (~3% of campus emissions), as opposed to the 47,000-ton reduction claimed using the original methodology employed in the University’s Climate Action Plan. These detailed calculations are contained in Appendix B.

The fugitive emissions of methane during fracking and transportation are horrific, and methane is much worse for global warming than carbon dioxide. Emitted methane actually decays into carbon dioxide after 15-20 years but, before it does, it has approximately 86 times more "warming" potential than CO2.

But for those Board members who look at balance sheets more often than scientific data, and who might feel beholden to Duke Energy for providing such a tasty and efficient project, they need to remember this: Duke Energy has invested heavily in natural gas infrastructure in the last few years, and ensuring a reliable gas customer in Duke University for decades is pretty much all they're concerned about. The University's carbon (or methane) footprint, its reputation, its leadership position on Climate Change? None of that matters to the utility.

Tags: