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A natural gas–fueled electricity generating power plant near Hermiston Oregon. Photo: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

February to April of this year was the first three-month period in which the carbon intensity of total U.S. electricity generation fell below that of the U.S. gas-fired power fleet, per the latest available data from the Energy Information Administration.

Why it matters: This phenomenon challenges the conventional wisdom that gas will be the critical — even the primary — tool for decarbonizing the U.S. going forward. Although gas has played a prominent role in driving down U.S. emissions over the past decade, driving a switch from coal in many markets, it is likely that the more than $100 billion in planned new gas capacity will face increasing uncertainty, particularly in states with policies that mandate new generation to contribute to grid emissions reductions.

The other side: To be sure, gas still has a role to play, not only in replacing remaining coal generation, but also in supporting the intermittency of renewables — a growing challenge as the penetration of solar and wind increases.

Nevertheless, there are early signs of price-competitive solar-plus-storage or wind-plus-storage projects, such as in a recent Colorado auction, that would turn gas into renewables’ competitor, rather than complement, to play the role of base-load power.

What's next: These dynamics will make it only more important for U.S. gas production to have an export valve, so that it can be sent to international markets — such as China and India — where it still has a huge role to play in reducing emissions and air pollution. The threat of Chinese tariffs on U.S. gas exports will not help: Not only would they shrink one of the largest potential markets, but they would also cloud the outlook for a number prospective gas export facilities awaiting final investment decisions soon.

David Livingston is deputy director for climate and advanced energy at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. (CIRA/RAMMB)

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

Mike Allen, author of AM
7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.

Manchin, Schumer huddle with Biden in Delaware to discuss spending bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (left) and Sen. Joe Manchin at the U.S. Capitol in 2014. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will meet with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday morning in Delaware as Democrats look to reach an agreement on the massive spending measure.

Driving the news: Democrats are still negotiating what to keep in the bill and how to pay for it, with Biden saying on Thursday that the party does not have the votes to raise the corporate tax rate.

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