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Williams considering plan to use the sun to power its natural gas operations in Colorado, other states

Company evaluating a dozen possible sites in Colorado for installations

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Williams, a natural gas processing and transmission company, is looking at spending up to $400 million on solar energy to power its operations in Colorado and eight other states.

Williams, based in Tulsa, Okla., said Thursday that it is identifying places where the installations would be economical and can be primarily located on company-owned land next to its facilities.

Williams spokesman Tom Droege said Colorado is the first state where the company will consider spots for solar installations. He said the company is evaluating about a dozen sites in western Colorado and the Denver-Julesburg Basin on the northern Front Range. A decision could be made by next month.

Altogether, Williams could develop about 400 megawatts worth of solar power across the nine states. The installations are expected to start generating electricity in late 2021.

Williams can make the investment in solar given the current market and state and federal tax incentives “while continuing to enjoy the reliability that the grid provides via natural gas fired power generation,” Alan Armstrong,the president and CEO, said in a statement.

“Natural gas is key to our country’s ability to add more renewable energy to the power grid in large volumes,” Armstrong said. “It is a clean, affordable fuel that can quickly provide power when renewable energy sources are producing less due to the variability of sunlight and wind.”

Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, emitting at least 50% less carbon dioxide when burned in an efficient gas plant. It has been seen as a bridge to the use of more renewable energy.

However, concerns about methane emissions from oil and gas operations and dropping costs of wind and solar power have raised questions about expanding natural gas generation. 

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is 84 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over about 20 years. Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, which keeps trapping heat for a long time.

Industry officials say natural gas will continue to play a role in moving to cleaner energy.

The other states where Williams is thinking about using solar power are Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Williams said it anticipates working out agreements with local utilities to sell excess solar power back onto the grid.

Williams owns and operates more than 30,000 miles of pipelines and handles approximately 30% of the natural gas in the U.S.

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