The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, showing that annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the natural gas distribution system declined 69 percent from 1990 to 2019. During this same period natural gas utility companies added more than 788,000 miles of pipeline to serve 21 million more customers. Distribution systems owned and operated by local natural gas utilities emit only 0.08 percent of produced natural gas.
The EPA report showing decreasing methane emissions from the natural gas system is more evidence that the industry is pro-actively and aggressively improving their carbon profile.
This continuing downward trend in greenhouse gas emissions from the natural gas delivery system further shows the essential role Northwest gas utilities play in the region’s clean energy future. The industry has been pro-actively adopting new technologies to reduce the emissions impacts of the gas sector, which compliments the Pacific Northwest’s overall climate policy goals.
Recognizing the imperative of decarbonization, the Pacific Northwest gas utilities and interstate pipeline companies are investing in carbon-free sources of gas such as renewable natural gas and green hydrogen, as well as improving the efficiency of natural gas appliances.
Natural gas, particularly direct-use appliances, are highly efficient and offer lower lifecycle GHG impacts than other products. Natural gas is a reliable and cost-effective fuel that is often the fuel of choice, representing billions of dollars in efficient and well-maintained infrastructure essential to important economic sectors in the Northwest, including food processors, nurseries, the wood products industry and manufacturers.
The EPA has developed and published its Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks for more than two decades. The EPA Inventory represents the most comprehensive assessment of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions available. The Inventory shows a low-methane emissions profile for natural gas distribution systems, shaped by an industry-wide natural gas emissions rate of production that is only 1.0 percent.
By Don C. Brunell
Sometimes being first isn’t good. Such is the case with legislation making Washington the only state to ban natural gas in new homes and commercial buildings.
Thankfully, the legislators ended their session in Olympia and left that bad idea on the table. However, it is destined to come back next year.
The issue is complicated and expensive. Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) unveiled it as part of a package to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It included a phase-out of natural gas for space and water heating by forbidding the use of fossil fuels for heating and hot water in new buildings by 2030.
The ban trickled down from Seattle. Last month, the city adopted a partial gas ban with an update to its building code that says all new commercial and multifamily buildings four stories or taller must use electricity for heating. Among the questions not answered is new construction in smaller buildings and in houses, although it didn’t restrict the use of gas for cooking.
The natural gas ban was initiated by Berkeley city leaders in 2019. The idea spread to other California cities and more recently to Seattle. But opponents also were at work, and they helped to pass laws in four states — Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee — that restrict the ability of cities to ban gas hookups, Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News, reported.
Switching from natural gas to electricity is complicated and will impact everyone. Natural gas dependency is widespread.
With reference to Washington, Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomroy) told KIRO’s Dori Monson: “It’s a big industry because it provides warmth for about 1.2 million residences, there’s 107,000 commercial buildings and 3,500 industrial buildings that are working under clean, efficient, reliable natural gas. Plus, it fires about 11 percent of our electricity grid. So you’re talking a very large labor force.”
For example, one-third of Clark Public Utilities electricity is generated at the River Road natural gas-fired generating plant. Clark PUD provides power to more than 203,000 customers in Vancouver and throughout Clark County.
Puget Sound Energy is our state’s largest energy utility providing electric power to more than one million customers. PSE also generates one-third of its electricity at nine natural gas-fired power plants.
Nationally, natural gas produced the most electricity in 2020—more than 40 percent. Renewables, including hydro, wind and solar, accounted for 20 percent.
At present, electricity is affordable in Washington but adding new generating capacity is expensive and will drive power rates higher.
In 2019, Washington had the fourth-lowest average electricity retail prices in the nation, while 56 percent of the state’s households used electricity as their primary home heating fuel. Getting to total electricity dependency is difficult especially if the Lower Snake River dams are breached.
While natural gas electrical generation is important, natural gas availability is vital to some smaller communities. For example, the cities of Enumclaw and Ellensburg are the natural gas providers to nearly 9,000 customers.
Renewable natural gas (RNG) from farms, garbage landfills and waste conversion systems feed gas into the current pipeline system. That gas would otherwise dissipate in the atmosphere.
Finally, switching to cleaner burning natural gas has improved our air quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its new Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. It shows that annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the natural gas distribution system declined 69 percent from 1990 to 2019. During this same period, natural gas utility companies added more than 788,000 miles of pipeline to serve 21 million more customers.
Thankfully, lawmakers acted wisely and set the issue aside. There is just too much at stake to act hastily.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com
Neglect one simple step and you could dig yourself into deep trouble. So “call before you dig.” It’s the law. This one simple step can prevent damage, service disruptions, and potential disaster from uncharted digging into buried service facilities. It’s the law for all of us: contractors, excavators, and homeowners.
Each utility sends employees to locate underground lines near the project with color-coded paint that identifies what kind of utility is underground. Failure to call and receive necessary guidance can prove messy at the very least, disrupt essential services, and may be downright hazardous. Everyone, including homeowners, must call when planning to dig. Neighborhoods, especially new ones, have extensive utility lines crisscrossing under their yards.
Here’s what happens next after you call to have underground utilities located.
- A utility locator comes out to your home or business.
- The contractor locates natural gas and utility lines on your property—for free.
- The contractor uses visual markers to identify the lines so you know where it’s safe to dig, and areas you should avoid.
Each state or province in our region has its own convenient number for its location service:
Oregon law created a statewide, one-call service – (800) 332-2344 or simply 811. For more information, you can also visit online www.callbeforeyoudig.org/oregon/.
In Washington, you can call (800) 424-5555 or 811. For additional online information, visit www.callbeforeyoudig.org/washington/.
Idaho has established it’s Digline service which you can reach at (800) 342-1585 or 811, with a Digline website www.digline.com.
British Columbia has its own easy-to-use “BC 1 Call” service at (800) 474-6886 or visit the website at www.bc1c.ca.
Finally, once the utilities have been to your home or business and marked any underground utility lines – RESPECT THE MARKS. Don’t dig within 12-inches of the markings. Also, below is a handy chart for understanding what the different colored markings identify:
811 is the LAW. Digging a new flower bed or garden – Call 811. Even if it is just a small flower bed? How about installing a post call 811. Is it any different if you hire a landscaper or contractor? No – call 811.
Even if you are worried about slowing down your project, please call 811. Safety. Safety. Safety. Digging without knowing the approximate location of underground utilities. What gets damaged? Natural gas pipelines. Electric lines. Phone, internet, and other communication cables. Water lines. Sewer lines. This can result in service disruptions to your own home or business, and your neighbors, as well as serious injuries and costly repairs.
You may not know, but according to data collected by Common Ground Alliance (CGA), an underground utility line is damaged once every six minutes nationwide because someone decided to dig without first calling 811.
CALL BEFORE YOU DIG. Please. It is actually federal law to call 811 at least two business days before digging.
Every time you dig follow these steps:
- Notify – call 811.
- Wait – utilities will do the marking in 2-3 days.
- Confirm – that all of the affected utility operators have responded to your request by comparing the marks to the list of utilities the one-call center notified. If they are, dig safely. If not, call again.
- Respect the marks – State laws generally prohibit the use of mechanized equipment within 18-24 inches of a marked utility, which is called the “tolerance zone” (click here for information from your state).
- Dig Safely – Avoid digging near the marks (within 18-24 inches on all sides, depending on state law), or consider moving your project to another part of your yard.
Making a call to 811 is the easiest way to make sure you keep you and your neighbors safe!!!
From the Partnership for Energy Progress (PEP)
Please enjoy the following article from PEP that can also be found at https://www.pepnw.org/renewable-hydrogen-helps-natural-gas-advance-clean-energy-in-the-pacific-northwest/.
How will natural gas infrastructure advance the goal of clean energy in the Pacific Northwest? One of the most promising new technologies is called Renewable Hydrogen.
Renewable Hydrogen – or “green” hydrogen – is created by utilizing excess wind, solar or hydroelectric power to separate water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. This process, called electrolysis, then delivers hydrogen into natural gas pipelines and releases the oxygen into the air. Renewable Hydrogen acts just like battery storage for excess renewable electricity. It captures the excess power so we can use it when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, and it helps balance energy need with energy supply.
Europe has embraced Renewable Hydrogen as a key component to advancing its goal of eliminating carbon emissions, but it has been slow to catch on in the U.S. Until now. The Biden Administration has committed billions in new Research & Development funds to advance Renewable Hydrogen and projects are starting to be developed right here in our own backyard.
In Washington, Douglas County PUD broke ground on March 8, 2021, on a new Renewable Hydrogen pilot project near Baker Flats, East Wenatchee, that will support their Wells Hydroelectric Project. This project was made possible through SB 5588, bipartisan legislation that passed the Washington State Legislature in 2019 and was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. Also in Washington, Puget Sound Energy will be conducting a series of pilot projects at their Georgetown Training Facility. Teams will perform a series of tests using different hydrogen/natural gas blends and test the system for leaks, air quality after combustion, gas quality, and impact on the appliances used.
In Oregon, NW Natural, Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB), and Bonneville Environmental Foundation signed an agreement in October of 2020 to collaborate on a proposed Renewable Hydrogen plant in Eugene. With the growth of wind and solar generation, along with existing hydroelectric generation, EWEB says it periodically has an abundance of renewable electricity available that can be used to produce hydrogen that can be stored for months or even years in existing natural gas infrastructure. Last year, NW Natural began testing a 5% hydrogen blend of natural gas to evaluate impacts on the system and end-use equipment performance at its Sherwood Operations and Training Center. In 2021, they are expanding blend testing to include additional end-use equipment performance on furnaces, fireplaces, and water heaters.
The 75,000 miles of existing natural gas infrastructure is a vital component to delivering clean energy in the future. As we’ve learned in the Pacific Northwest recently, having the electricity go out in a storm can be made more bearable with a reliable natural gas system that allows us to continue to heat our homes and cook for our families.
Countries around the world are embracing Renewable Hydrogen as a key component of their carbon emissions goals. By preserving and expanding our own natural gas infrastructure here in the Pacific Northwest, we can ensure we have clean, reliable power in the future.
The natural gas system is structurally and empirically resilient, which was graphically demonstrated in Oregon’s February Ice Storm 2021, showing that while even as tens of thousands of homes lost electricity, homes with natural gas continued to have heat, cooking, and hot water.
The inherent resiliency of the natural gas system can be attributed to several factors:
- Planning and preparation: in combination with the physical properties of natural gas results in few operational issues that threatened supply or capacity.
- Underground Facilities: the extensive underground location of facilities protects them from weather impacts.
- Line Pack: transmission pipelines incidentally store gas at pressure (called “line pack”) which provides a buffer that can mitigate the effects of abnormal operating conditions.
- Network Reliability: the network configuration of the pipeline industry means that, in the event of an outage, there is usually a “work-around” that allows continued service to LDCs and directly connected consumers.
- Confined Impact: the physical configuration of gas pipelines limits the impact of a disruption; not susceptible to “cascading events” such as those on electric transmission systems.
The resiliency of the natural gas system was especially important during the Oregon Ice Storm. Natural gas is the workhorse fuel for homes in Oregon. For example, NWGA member company NW Natural serves 2.5 million people in 140 communities while delivering more energy than any other utility in Oregon. NW Natural also heats 74 percent of the residential square footage in its service area and provides 90 percent of the energy needs for residential space and water heat on the coldest winter days. It should also be mentioned that it does all of this at great savings to Oregon families: for the typical residence in Oregon, natural gas can be 50+ percent cheaper than electricity to heat both their home and water.
Ice Storm 2021 that electricity and natural gas are not either-or, but both-and. The resiliency of the natural gas system and its broad distribution system (in addition to natural gas inherently being a low-carbon, low-emission clean fuel) make it an essential, unavoidably necessary part of a low-carbon energy future in the Pacific Northwest.
Just three weeks ago in February, Oregon’s Willamette Valley was pummeled by a 50-year ice storm. Hundreds of thousands of homes lost electricity, as well as phone, cable, and cell service – and many neighborhoods went 10 days or more without electric service. It is important to remember what an electrified home loses without electricity: heat (no baseboard heat, no heat pump), no stove or oven for cooking, no appliances (most importantly, no coffeemaker), no lights, and no hot water. But there were no natural gas interruptions during this time. Homes with natural gas could still use their gas fireplaces for heat, their gas stoves to cook, and had hot water from their gas water heaters (think hot showers in a cold house). Why is this? The natural gas system is inherently reliable AND resilient.
It’s important to understand the difference between resilience and reliability. The terms are often referenced together or even used interchangeably, but they are very different. As described in a recent report by the American Gas Foundation, “resilience is defined as a system’s ability to prevent, withstand, adapt to, and quickly recover from a high-impact, low-likelihood event such as a major disruption in a transmission pipeline. In comparison, reliability refers to a systems’ ability to maintain energy delivery under standard operating conditions, such as the standard fluctuations in demand and supply.” So, when we are discussing how the natural gas system performs during a severe ice storm, we are discussing resilience.
The natural gas industry’s resilience can be tested by its ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions, as well as withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.
Ultimately, the greatest test of resilience is whether a utility’s commitments to customers can be met regardless of the degree of stress that is caused by a weather event.
Despite some of nature’s harshest conditions, during the Oregon Ice Storm of 2021, the natural gas industry passed this test with flying colors, proving both exceedingly reliable and resilient.
Resilience was demonstrated through the continued service and availability of natural gas despite threatening weather and outages on the electric grid.
It is exactly this resilience that makes natural gas the perfect complement to electricity in providing warmth and light to homes and businesses in the Pacific Northwest. And gas is a natural part of the region’s move to decarbonize, providing stability, reliability, and resilience.
The City of Seattle recently enacted an energy code that will ban natural gas space and water heating in new commercial and large multi-family buildings starting in March. Washington state lawmakers considered a bill that would ban natural gas in all construction projects starting in 2030. And the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is developing rules as part of Governor Kate Brown’s Cap-and Reduce executive order that could lead to a similar ban on the commercial and residential use of natural gas. California policymakers are also racing in the same direction.
Utility and business leaders in Washington testified at a January legislative hearing in Olympia on HB 1084, warning it would raise energy costs and encourage certain industries to move their facilities out of state, costing Washington families’ jobs.
Dan Kirschner, NWGA executive director, explained to the committee that the bill “is not the right approach” to reducing carbon emissions in the state. “Unnecessarily raising energy costs, eliminating energy choices, and ultimately abandoning a reliable energy system isn’t necessary to achieve meaningful decarbonization.”
Kirschner explained that Washington has some of the country’s cheapest energy rates, giving it a strong competitive advantage nationally for industries like food processors that rely on natural gas. “The bottom line is those food processing facilities in Central Washington rely on low-cost energy,” he said. “If [costs] go up, it’s entirely possible…that they’ll be looking for options where to shift that production to lower-cost states.” The food processing industry alone employs more than 30,000 people in Washington State, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Association of Washington Business (AWB) Energy Director Peter Godlewski warned the committee that if energy rates go up it will amount to “still yet another reason businesses leave Washington state. We cannot take a healthy grid for granted.”
President Nicole Kivisto of Cascade Natural Gas told the committee that utilities like Cascade are already reducing carbon through energy-saving innovations such as smart thermometers. She added that they should be “enhancing rather than abandoning” natural gas. “What we support is building upon energy efficiency programs.”
And Puget Sound Energy (PSE) State and Federal Affairs Director Janet Kelly noted “particular concerns about reliability and cost impacts. Electrification is not the preferred pathway to achieve carbon reduction.” She added that an E3 study released in December concluded that Washington faces a capacity shortage of up to 7,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025 and that new planned energy sources won’t fill that gap.
The bill in question, HB 1084, failed to make it out of the Appropriations Committee before the legislative deadline. Unions representing different construction and building trade labor interests were pivotal in opposing the measure.
In California, Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) has become one of the harshest critics of California’s climate policies and the environmental groups pushing them. The natural gas bans being adopted by California city councils have ignited a backlash from prominent Black and Latino leaders, who are concerned that the energy price increases caused by the prohibitions on the use of natural gas are a form of regressive tax on low- and middle-income residents. Cooper said the environmental groups pushing the bans on natural gas show “deliberate indifference” to California’s low- and middle-income consumers’ needs. “It’s outrageous,” he said.
Sierra Club responded to Cooper and Rubio in a letter saying, “the concerns expressed in your letter regarding the cost of utility bills are exactly those furthered by Sierra Club’s advocacy to assure SoCalGas does not improperly impose expenses on ratepayers.” However, the Sierra Club says it wants a “gas-free future for our homes and buildings.”
A “gas-free future” ignores the cost impacts on the low and middle class in the California context while achieving minimal GHG reductions. A recent report by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability found that “whole house electrification programs are likely to exacerbate daily peak electricity loads and increase total household expenditures on energy.” It continues, “Moreover, the state’s continued reliance on natural gas peaker-plants means that these efforts will likely only produce modest GHG emissions abatement benefits.”
Lastly, from the UCLA report, “Low-income residents of disadvantaged communities, who have the least flexible work schedules, the least access to high-efficiency appliances and energy management systems, and inhabit the most poorly insulated housing stock, will be most adversely affected by these changes.” The same issues apply in Oregon and Washington as well.
Others in California who have spoken out against efforts to ban natural gas include Timothy Alan Simon, the chairman of the California Black Chamber of Commerce, and a former member of the California Public Utility Commission, and Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area. And The Two Hundred, a coalition of Latino civil-rights leaders, has sued California over its energy and housing policies, also opposes gas bans. The California Restaurant Association has filed a lawsuit to stop the bans, as well as the utility SoCalGas.
The disparity between the haves and have-nots becomes more evident when considering that Californians pay the country’s highest energy prices. Whether in the Central Valley or the Los Angeles basin, temperatures are hotter and commutes to work are longer if you live inland. Californians pay over a dollar more per gallon of gas than the national average. When it comes to electricity, data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency shows Californians pay 55% more than the rest of the nation.
The more than 100,000 miles of safe, reliable infrastructure that is the natural gas system in the Northwest delivers energy to more than 2.5 million homes, 250,000 businesses and institutions, and 5,000 industrial facilities that employ thousands upon thousands of Northwesterners. The energy that the system delivers can and will change. The region’s low carbon goals can be achieved faster, more affordably, and with less disruption by adapting this robust system, rather than by abandoning it to build something new.
On average, a house fueled by natural gas is responsible for about one-third fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than a comparable all-electric home.
Why? Let’s take a look at what’s called the full fuel cycle, which accounts for how much energy is retained – or lost – from an energy source until its final use in your water heater, oven, or home heating system. With the full fuel cycle in mind, natural gas’s direct use comes out as a winner in the energy efficiency race. For example, by the time you turn on an electric appliance, up to 68 percent of the original fuel’s energy value has been lost. That means the full fuel cycle efficiency is about 32 percent. By contrast, a natural gas appliance’s full fuel cycle efficiency is about 92 percent – a substantial difference. More efficient use of fuel means less energy loss and less that needs to be produced, which reduces GHG emissions.
The graphic illustrates the efficiency of natural gas and electricity on a full fuel cycle basis for 100MMbtu (100 million British Thermal Units). A Btu is a measure of the energy content in fuel expressed by the heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit at a specific temperature and pressure. One Btu equals 252 calories, 778 footpounds, 1,055 joules, or 0.293 watt-hours. One cubic foot of natural gas contains about 1,027 Btus.
Renewable is Doable
By Alex Schay
In North America, we rely on natural gas to provide the majority of our space and process heat. It is also safe to assert that, in most cases, the next MegaWatt hour will be generated through the combustion of natural gas. For example, 80% of the heat used for food processing is derived from natural gas.
In order to make meaningful progress toward addressing climate change, gas utilities are taking steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their fuel mix. Gas utilities have five tools that will enable them to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuel, including:
- Energy efficiency;
- Reduce gas flaring and fugitive methane emissions;
- Tighten up pipeline infrastructure to minimize methane leakage;
- Surplus renewable electricity may be used to convert water into Renewable Hydrogen (RH2); and,
- Decomposition of organic waste may be used to produce Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), e.g., at landfills, at commercial & municipal wastewater treatment plants, as well as on dairies and confined animal feeding operations.
What is Renewable Natural Gas?
Both Conventional Natural Gas and Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) contain an identical CH4 molecule. RNG is a green fuel that comes from waste material, such as garbage, human waste, and animal manure. As such, RNG uses waste streams that are part of the current lifecycle to create a useful product that burns cleanly and significantly reduces Greenhouse Gas emissions as compared with gasoline or Diesel.
GHG reductions accrue when using CNG and RNG as opposed to gasoline or Diesel
|Conventional (fossil) Natural Gas (CNG)||5% – 15%|
|Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) sourced from a landfill||40% – 50%|
|RNG sourced from a municipal wastewater treatment plant||75% – 85%|
|RNG generated from animal manure||Ø > than 100%|
Food processing plants may offer a special opportunity for the production of RNG. Many food-processing facilities have their own wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Often times, gas generated at commercial WWTPs is captured in covered lagoons and then sent to a flare. These types of waste-management scenarios offer significant opportunities to improve the gas collection, production, and utilization.
Because the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard classifies biogas generated at food-processing facilities as an “Advanced Biofuel,” RNG generated at such projects will only earn D5 Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) when used as a transportation fuel. More valuable D3 RINs, however, are generated at landfills, municipal WWTPs, as well, as from animal manure. As such, RNG from food-processing facilities will not deliver as much economic benefit as RNG from landfills or municipal WWTPs when used as a transportation fuel.
To that end, RNG produced at food-processing plants may offer a cost-competitive resource that gas utilities may use to reduce their fuel mix’s carbon footprint. For example, a recent analysis of anthropogenic GHG emissions associated with RNG that will be produced at a dairy-processing plant in Washington State revealed that this fuel will have a carbon footprint that is more than 95% lower than conventional natural gas. In this way, food processors may help gas utilities reduce their fuel mix’s carbon intensity in a cost-effective manner.
At present, 32% of US energy consumption is fueled by natural gas. Unlike electricity, which must be used immediately or lost forever, RNG and RH2 can be stored for use when needed. A diversified decarbonization strategy will embrace all technologies, including cleaning up both the electricity grid and natural gas pipeline network. With this context in mind, we encourage an “All-of-the-Above” strategy as we work to decarbonize our energy future.
What is the best path forward to achieve meaningful emissions reductions in the Northwest? Some believe that “electrify everything” is the answer. But the electrification pathway to deep decarbonization carries serious economic and reliability risks, as well as environmental consequences. If you rely on one source for all energy, what happens during outages? What happens during peak cold days in the winter, when demand-response systems and utility-scale power storage systems (i.e. large batteries) cannot sufficiently supplement intermittent production by solar and wind sources?
Let’s look at some numbers. FortisBC’s natural gas system is designed to meet the peak demand equivalent of 28.1 GW. In contrast, BC Hydro’s current peak demand is 11.1 GW; when its Site C dam is completed, that will add an additional 1.1 GW of generation at a cost of about $10 billion. Based on the expected cost of the Site C project, electrifying just FortisBC’s natural gas demand would require multiple billion dollars in investments in BC Hydro’s system.
Here’s a real-world example. On January 7, 2017, from 7:00a, to 8:00 am, the electric system delivered about 30 GWh of useful energy to Northwest consumers (energy for space and water heat, lighting, electronics, etc., not including BC). During that same one-hour time frame, the natural gas system delivered the equivalent of 53 GWh, or almost double the amount of end-use energy. Imagine tripling the current power infrastructure to serve one hour of load (serving an average winter hour might only require doubling the power delivery infrastructure) while abandoning more than 100,000 miles of existing safe, reliable, resilient, and affordable energy delivery infrastructure.
A note on affordability and resilience. The current delivered cost of electricity to Northwest consumers is about three times more than the energy equivalent amount of natural gas. Underground natural gas distribution systems serving the Northwest communities devastated by the tragic 2020 Labor Day fires were safely shut down ahead of the inferno are undamaged and available to be placed back into service when homes and businesses are rebuilt.
Ultimately, electrification would require staggering investments in the electric grid (e.g., transmission and distribution infrastructure) along with significant investments in additional power sources – whether energy efficiency, power storage, demand-response, new generation, or potentially costly purchases on the spot market. Electrification would also compel homeowners and businesses to replace appliances and cause significant power bill increases.
According to a 2018 American Gas Association study, aggressive policy-driven residential electrification could reduce GHG emissions across the U.S. by only 1 to 1.5 percent by 2035. In the Northwest, served by gas distribution and transmission systems with lower emissions relative to elsewhere, the reduction achievements would be even smaller.
And no one has yet estimated the environmental costs of the new electric transmission and distribution infrastructure that would have to be built to move the replacement electricity to market, nor the incremental emissions that will result from increased electricity generation in the near-term, nor the waste stream created by renewables, or whether major new transmission lines could be built from renewable projects to cities due to increased opposition and regulatory delays.
Steps towards a Low-Emissions, Diversified Energy Future
It makes considerably more sense to keep our options open in the future by maintaining a mix of energy sources and employing each where it is most efficient and cost-effective. At the same time, we must continue to innovate and reduce emissions from all energy sources.
In the Pacific Northwest, the natural gas industry is committed to supporting GHG abatement targets while also continuing to provide its customers with choices and reliable solutions at a reasonable and predictable cost. NWGA members are exploring how best to reliably and affordably decarbonize their systems and some have made concrete commitments:
- 30% reduction in emissions by 2030
- Reduce oil and gas system emissions by 35% by 2030
- Zero methane emissions from distribution systems by 2022
- Net-zero carbon by 2050
Furthermore, NWGA members have been and will continue investing in:
- Energy efficiency and demand-side management programs
- Replacing higher-carbon fuels for all uses (space and water heating, transportation, electricity generation) with cleaner alternatives such as RNG and hydrogen.
- Efficient natural gas-fired generation plants to support intermittent renewable energy sources and meet peak demand
- An ever-tighter natural gas delivery system
These actions will help maintain a healthy and diversified energy system across our region, ensuring system reliability; enabling emissions reductions through innovation, and putting North America’s abundant, low-priced natural gas supply to good use.
 In BC, this includes investments in liquefied natural gas (LNG) systems to displace marine fuel oil in the international marine segment and to displace coal in Asian economies, with associated emissions reductions.
Cooking with natural gas remains the favorite energy choice of those who love to cook. It’s not even close. That’s how the phrase, “Now we’re cooking with gas!” was coined. It expresses enthusiasm, signifying that everything is aligned and working well together; that a plan or a team is producing terrific results. Here are some of the reasons why:
Natural gas generates much more heat than electricity yielding delectable stir fry and perfectly seared meats. Have you ever seen the wok burners in your favorite Asian restaurant? They are remarkable, producing a jet-like flame for fast cooking that yields hot but still crispy vegetables.
Do you want the ability to control your cooking temperature? The precision of cooking with natural gas is unparalleled. The heat can be turned up or down continuously and being able to see the flame and judge how much heat is needed is critical to producing delicate dishes and sauces.
Cooking with gas is safe. Government agencies charged with ensuring public health (e.g. Federal Interagency Committee on Indoor Air Quality; Consumer Products Safety Commission) haven’t found any health concerns whether cooking with gas or electricity. Of course, all cooking appliances should be properly vented, if possible, regardless of the type of heat used.
A few recent articles, including an opinion piece in The Atlantic, get it all wrong when it comes to cooking with natural gas (click here for technical analysis of The Atlantic article by the American Gas Association). The fact is, natural gas remains a safe, affordable, preferred, and increasingly renewable energy choice for consumers. So let’s get cooking with gas!
In today’s blog, we’ll discuss Renewable Natural Gas (RNG).
What is RNG? It is an ultra-clean, ultra low-carbon natural gas alternative. As organic waste decomposes it emits methane gas, called biogas. RNG is sometimes referred to as ‘biomethane,’ a related term. Biomethane or RNG is simply biogas that has been cleaned up to remove impurities and match the quality of pipeline gas such that it may blend with, or substitute for, conventional natural gas.
Regional gas utilities and pipelines continue to work with farmers, developers, and local governments to capture and purify biogas that can be cleaned up to pipeline quality gas and injected into existing natural gas systems. In addition, new policies are being enacted across our region to promote and accelerate further development and adoption of RNG. Here are a few examples from across the region:
In BC, there are five operating biogas projects using agricultural waste, landfill waste, and curbside organic waste to generate about 250,000 Gigajoules (GJ) (equivalent to 237,000 Dth) of RNG annually. FortisBC already purchases and injects RNG into its existing system, as well as investing in and operating biogas upgrading equipment, and is building another RNG-producing facility at the Vancouver Landfill. When the facility begins operation in late 2021, it will double BC’s existing expected RNG supply.
On the customer side, FortisBC was one of North America’s first utilities to introduce a voluntary participation RNG Program in 2011. FortisBC customers can designate between 5 and 100 percent of their natural gas use as RNG and pay a premium on their bill. FortisBC then injects an equivalent amount of RNG into the FortisBC distribution system. Today, more than 10,500 BC homes and businesses are enrolled in the RNG program.
The provincial CleanBC plan, enacted in 2018, set an ambitious target of 15 percent RNG blend by 2030. Though not yet in force, it represents a major shift in how FortisBC needs to look at its gas supply. Ultimately, FortisBC expects to use a number of tools to reach this objective, but if required to fill the gap with RNG, this represents a greater than 30-fold increase in its current supply levels.
In Washington, the state legislature passed a law in 2019 that requires each gas local distribution company (LDC) to offer RNG to its customers and gives those entities the ability to introduce RNG into their standard supply portfolios, provided the cost of RNG does not increase customer costs by more than 5 percent. Washington gas utilities are currently working with Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) staff and other interested parties to develop RNG cost recovery rules, RNG program limitations, and RNG gas quality requirements.
Currently, there are five projects producing or soon-to-begin producing RNG in Washington state – two landfills and one multi-farm dairy-waste digester connected to Williams Northwest Pipeline and two wastewater treatment facilities connected to Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) distribution system. These facilities are currently all committed to serving the vehicle fuel market, primarily in California. As the vehicle fuel market matures and reaches saturation, however, it is expected that landfill- and wastewater-sourced RNG will be redeployed to serve local utility demand.
PSE has held preliminary discussions with numerous developers seeking to complete RNG projects in western and central Washington and with various municipal and regional wastewater treatment plants and landfills that seek to create additional revenue streams and reduce their own carbon footprint. PSE is engaged in the physical and economic feasibility analyses necessary to interconnect approximately 12 viable RNG projects. PSE recently acquired the RNG produced and upgraded at the large regional Roosevelt landfill in order to serve its gas customers with a clean and renewable resource.
Other Washington utilities are also considering potential supply sources, and some believe they may be able to offer RNG directly to retail customers through opt-in programs by late 2020 or mid-2021. By 2025, as much as 2 percent of Washington gas use could be sourced from renewable sources, with a potential of 5 percent by 2030.
In Oregon, similar to Washington, a law passed in 2019 requires the Public Utility Commission to adopt RNG programs for both large and small gas utilities, enabling them to fully recover costs of integrating RNG into their systems. Up to 5 percent of a utility’s revenue requirement may be used to cover the incremental costs of RNG. The law also outlines goals for adding as much as 30 percent RNG into the state’s pipeline system by 2050. A 2017 study by Oregon’s Department of Energy showed a technical potential of recovering some 48 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of RNG within the state annually, an amount that could supply every home using natural gas in Oregon today with a local, renewable energy source.1
RNG development could reduce U.S. GHG emissions between 101-235 million metric tons (MMT) by 2040 – the equivalent of reducing GHG emissions from average annual residential natural gas use by 95% from levels observed over the last 10 years.2
Oregon’s first gas-grid-connected RNG facility, Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, began production in 2019, with a tie into the Williams Pipeline system. Three more projects have announced plans to interconnect to NW Natural’s pipeline distribution system, beginning with the City of Portland’s Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant and Shell New Energies’ Junction City projects in 2020, and the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission project in Eugene-Springfield in 2021. Like RNG producers in Washington state, these projects are earmarked to supply the California vehicle market for now, although some of the Portland RNG will power city trucks at a natural gas fueling station to be built at the treatment plant.
Idaho is entering the RNG game too. Intermountain Gas Company has already integrated RNG produced from one dairy farm in Jerome and is looking to bring others online as feasible.
Renewable natural gas is a unique resource. It allows us to capture streams of methane from the decomposition of human and agricultural waste that would otherwise be emitted directly into the atmosphere, clean it up, and put it to beneficial use. RNG significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it allows for optimizing the use of the existing 128,000 miles of energy delivery infrastructure that serves warmth and comfort to about ten million people who live in the Pacific Northwest as well as produce energy for almost 350,000 businesses here.
- Biogas and Renewable Natural Gas Inventory SB 337 (2017), 2018. www.oregon.gov/energy
In today’s blog, we’ll discuss natural demand in the Pacific Northwest.
The overall demand for natural gas in the Pacific Northwest is forecast to grow at nearly the same rate as reported over the last few years: a modest 1.0 percent per year (see forecast demand growth by sector in Table 1). Natural gas as a fuel to generate electricity paces overall expected to increase in regional gas use (see Figure 2), in part due to the retirement of coal generation units in 2021-2022. Meanwhile, residential and commercial customers continue the decades-long trend of using gas more efficiently (see Figure 3), dampening growth in those sectors.
Figure 1 (below) shows how regional demand has fluctuated over the past two decades. Figure 4 shows forecast peak and average day demand. It is important to keep in mind that utilities and pipeline operators must design their systems to deliver energy on “peak” days, which are typically in the winter in the Pacific Northwest.
Unless otherwise noted, the source of charts and tables in this blog is the NWGA.
Figure 1: Historic Regional Demand by Sector (Source: EIA and Statistics Canada Consumption Tables)
NOTES: While regional residential and commercial consumption has remained relatively flat over the past decade, industrial usage has declined considerably, in part due to the “Great Recession” that cost the region more than 20 percent of its industrial gas load between 2007 and 2012. The industrial sector is still the largest regional user; however (see Figure 2).
As noted above, the region is using increasingly more natural gas to generate electricity. However, year-to-year variations occur because gas is typically used when other resources (hydro, nuclear, wind, solar) are unavailable in sufficient quantities. In other words, gas is the last generation fuel on and the first fuel off. In that way, natural gas provides a critical role in ensuring the reliability of the electricity system here as the region transitions to more renewable but intermittent resources.
Table 1: Forecast Annual and Cumulative (through 2028/2029) Demand Changes by Case
NOTES: This demand forecast is a compilation of the planning conducted by NWGA member-companies, including the integrated resource plans each natural gas utility is required to file with their respective state/provincial regulator. Low and high demand cases are driven by various economic and policy factors, including growth, commodity cost, cost of carbon, etc.
NOTES: Residential, commercial, and industrial demand for natural gas is expected to grow at a slightly slower pace than forecast in last year’s Outlook, while generation demand is anticipated to grow at a slightly greater rate. The forecast step increase in gas demand for generation shown in 2021-2022 coincides with the retirement of several coal-fired generation units currently serving the region, including Boardman in Oregon (end of 2020), Centralia Boiler 1 in Washington (end of 2020), and Colstrip Units 1 & 2 in Montana (mid-2022). This forecast demonstrates the expectation that natural gas will play an increasingly important role in maintaining system reliability and affordability as policymakers drive the region toward a cleaner energy future.
Figure 3: Declining Per Capita Consumption in Residential and Commercial Sectors
NOTES: While the number of residential and commercial natural gas consumers in our region has grown 124 percent since 1990, per capita usage of natural gas has dropped 32 percent due to energy efficiency efforts, including more efficient gas appliances.
NOTES: The Pacific Northwest uses the least amount of gas during May. The gas used to generate electricity for air conditioning typically ramps up in June before tailing off during the fall. January is the month during which our region typically uses the most gas to heat space and water for homes and businesses.
Natural gas utilities design their systems to serve demand on the coldest day likely to occur in the territories they serve. Figure 4 illustrates that demand for natural gas on those days can nearly double the demand experienced during an average winter day. While each company approaches its planning standard a little differently, “peak” or “design,” days are typically based on actual 24-hour average temperatures recorded at representative locations.
Click here to review the data table in Appendix A of the 2020 Outlook.
The 20 latest Blog Posts
- Natural Gas Distribution Emissions Continue to Fall
- GUEST BLOG: Rethinking Natural Gas Bans
- APRIL SAFETY MONTH — CALL BEFORE YOU DIG (Cont.)
- Stay Safe – Call before you dig
- NWGA Guest Blog: Renewable Hydrogen Helps Natural Gas Advance Clean Energy in the Pacific Northwest
- The Natural Gas System is Inherently Resilient
- Surviving Ice Storms with Natural Gas
- NWGA’s Policy Principles on Climate Action
- Diverse West Coast Leaders Concerned Over Proposed Gas Bans
- NWGA member Puget Sound Energy Announces Net-zero Carbon Emissions Goal, Including Natural Gas Sold to Customers, by 2045
- The Efficiency of Natural Gas Versus Electricity
- Renewable is Doable
- The Value of Natural Gas in the Pacific Northwest – Electrification: Climate Panacea or Risky Business?
- Cooking with Gas!
- The Value of Natural Gas in the Pacific Northwest: Renewable Natural Gas
- The Value of Natural Gas in the Pacific Northwest: Demand
- The Value of Natural Gas in the Pacific Northwest: Emissions
- The Value of Natural Gas in the Pacific Northwest: Prices
- Natural Gas’s Reliability Can’t Be Beat
- The Value of Natural Gas in the Pacific Northwest
- 2016 Annual Energy Conference – Post Conference
- 2017 Annual Energy Conference – Post Conference
- 2018 Annual Energy Conference
- 2018 Annual Energy Conference – Post Conference
- 2018 Gas Outlook
- 2019 AEC Presentation
- 2019 Annual Energy Conference – Post Conference
- 2020 Outlook Study
- 2021 Annual Energy Conference
- About the NWGA
- Annual Energy Conferences
- Avista Utilities
- Cap and Trade Fact Sheet
- Conversion Calculator
- GAS OUTLOOK
- Industry Events
- IRPs & Other Data
- ISSUE BRIEFS
- Issues & Facts
- Local Government Resources
- Natural Gas Facts
- Natural Gas Supply Serving the Pacific Northwest
- Northwest Gas Association
- NWGA Board Manual
- NWGA Policy Principles on Climate Action
- NWGA Resources
- Our Mission
- PNW Gas Landscape – Gas Power Convergence
- Press Releases
- Renewable Natural Gas (RNG)
- State and Provincial Fact Sheets
- The Power of Natural Gas in the War on Carbon Emissions
- White Papers
- 2020 Annual Energy Conference
Archives by Month:
- May 2021
- April 2021
- March 2021
- February 2021
- January 2021
- December 2020
- November 2020
- October 2020
- September 2020
- August 2020
- July 2020
- June 2020
- April 2020
- March 2020
- February 2020
- January 2020
- December 2019
- September 2019
- June 2019
- April 2019
- February 2019
- December 2018
- November 2018
- September 2018
- August 2018
- July 2018
- June 2018
- May 2018
- March 2018
- February 2018
- January 2018
- December 2017
- November 2017
- August 2017
- July 2017
- June 2017
- May 2017
- March 2017
- February 2017
- January 2017
- December 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- February 2016
- November 2015
- October 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- January 2015
- December 2014
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012