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Local utility builds on history of innovation to pursue net-zero emissions solutions

Amid the global climate change challenge, NW Natural is taking aim at greenhouse gas emissions and creating a roadmap to a decarbonized energy future. Recognizing that collective action is needed, the company recently outlined various scenarios to transform into a provider of carbon neutral energy for its customers by 2050 in its Vision 2050: Destination Zero Report.   

The report suggests that by using its existing modern gas infrastructure and deploying a broad spectrum of solutions, the utility company can realize climate goals without sacrificing reliable and affordable energy.  

 NW Natural serves 2.5 million people in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and its system meets about 90% of the energy needs of its space and water heating customers on the coldest winter days. Yet, NW Natural customers’ natural gas use in homes and businesses accounts for only about 6% of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, electric generation currently accounts for 29% of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions.  

Using natural gas directly is a highly efficient way to meet the heating needs of Oregonians. Take for example, Sodbuster Farms Inc. in Marion County, a 1,000 acre hop producer that supplies many of the breweries in the Pacific Northwest. To preserve and export their hops, Sodbuster uses natural gas in the drying process. Brewers in turn rely on natural gas through the production process.  

“As farmers, we are the original conservationists. We care deeply about our land, air, water and community, which is why most of us phased out diesel-fired burners for natural gas,” said Douglas Weathers, Sodbuster Farms president. “Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel we can use on our farms — there are no acceptable alternatives with a lower carbon footprint. We're excited that even cleaner options, such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen, are coming online. We all want a clean energy future and that will require all of us working together.”  

 As a 163-year-old company, NW Natural is drawing on its experience to rapidly innovate to pursue solutions that reduce emissions while still maintaining the reliability and affordability of natural gas. 

 To drive toward carbon neutrality, NW Natural plans to leverage additional energy efficiency, new and existing technologies, and renewable energy sources as key components.  

 “Destination Zero is one of the first comprehensive assessments of its kind where a gas utility analyzes multiple scenarios to achieve carbon neutrality for its residential and business customers’ use,” said Kim Heiting, NW Natural senior vice president of operations. “The renewable supply exists, the technology exists, and our modern storage and energy delivery network is ready. We’re committed to leading the way to solutions that work for our environment, our customers and the communities we serve.” 

 The good news is that individual consumer usage of natural gas has declined as a result of energy efficiency measures and appliance standards. However, more aggressive energy efficiency actions coupled with new equipment technologies promise to reduce energy consumption even further.   

 Destination Zero shows transforming greenhouse gases into a renewable energy source is a win-win. Landfills, wastewater, food, agriculture, and forestry sectors produce many organic greenhouse gases. Now, there is a process to capture those biogases and create renewable natural gas that can be used in the existing pipeline network. This reduces emissions and allows conventional gas to be replaced with a lower-carbon fuel. In its report, NW Natural notes it has RNG options or agreements that make up about 3% of its current supply.  

Another energy opportunity for use within NW Natural’s existing system is renewable hydrogen. This resource takes advantage of extra renewable electricity when it’s available but might otherwise go to waste due to limited storage capacity. In this process, molecules are separated to create clean hydrogen for long-term storage or delivery.   

With dedicated resources and emissions reductions efforts already underway, NW Natural is ambitiously planning for a different energy future and envisions a decarbonized gas system delivering renewable molecules – helping the region reach climate goals faster, more affordably and more resiliently.  

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