As local residents, we were thrilled to see more than 400 people from Salem and the rest of Massachusetts come together last Saturday to send a strong message against Footprint power’s proposal for a new gas plant on our harbor.
It has been frustrating to hear how many in Salem have been misled by the claim that natural gas is a “clean” energy source, a falsehood promoted by Footprint Power and other corporations that stand to profit from gas expansion. In reality, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has found that methane (the chemical component of natural gas) is 34 times as powerful a warming agent as carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. This means that while natural gas produces lower carbon dioxide emissions than coal when burned, it takes only a tiny amount of methane leakage to erase the climate savings from gas combustion.
The Salem Alliance for the Environment, which supports the gas plant, has responded to our concerns about methane leaks by voicing support for regulations to reduce such leaks. Unfortunately, their opinion does not change the reality of the gas infrastructure in this country. We certainly can and should reduce methane leakage from Massachusetts pipelines, but we have no power to stop methane leaks in the states that source our gas. There is no way around it — burning more gas in Massachusetts means more methane in the atmosphere and a warmer planet.
Thankfully, there are many climate-safe options for meeting our state’s energy demand. Conservation measures, efficiency and transmission line improvements alone could meet the energy gap that Footprint proposes to fill with its gas plant, never mind the wealth of energy available in our region’s wind, solar and hydropower resources. And with natural gas already supplying 68 percent of Massachusetts’ power, we do not face an immediate problem with the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy. In the long term, we can meet this challenge with sustainable solutions like demand-response programs and following California’s lead of investing in storage capacity.