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GUEST BLOG: Coming Solar Eclipse Further Proves that Renewables Need Natural Gas

Anti-fossil fuel activists like 350.org’s Bill McKibben often pretend the United States can run on 100 percent renewable energy without the use of any traditional fuel sources. McKibben recently wrote in Rolling Stone that “the sundown problem is being solved fast, as batteries are able to store the energy from the morning sun and the wind from a gusty evening to keep the power running overnight.”

McKibben’s claims simply aren’t true though, and preparations for next week’s total solar eclipse illustrate this cold, hard fact.

Because storage technology to allow for solar power to stand alone — even during a brief loss of sunlight — doesn’t currently exist, the solar industry has been actively preparing for how to mitigate the issue in places like sunny California where that industry thrives. The solution? Natural gas.

NWGA Releases Natural Gas Facts Booklet

Natural Gas Facts

This booklet provides an overview of natural gas and the myriad of benefits that this domestic, clean, safe, low-cost and reliable energy source offers the Pacific Northwest consumers. 3.2 million regional natural gas users are enjoying its economic and environmental advantages, but expanding the use and applications of natural gas will help provide an economically feasible, cleaner environment for future generations.

To download and read more, click here.

Welcome to the Northwest Salish Orca and LNG as a marine fuel!

salish-orca

This is a picture of the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled marine vessel to operate in the Northwest, Salish Orca. Salish Orca left its shipyard in Gdansk, Poland last November and arrived in British Columbia (BC) last week after a 50-day, 10,440-nautical-mile journey. Salish Orca will go into operation later this spring after inspections and training are complete.

Salish Orca is the first of three liquefied natural gas (LNG) Salish class vessels that BC Ferries is adding to its fleet. Its sister ships, Salish Eagle and Salish Raven, are expected to arrive in BC this spring and go into service later in 2017. BC Ferries has also commissioned the retrofit of its two largest vessels, the Spirit of Vancouver and the Spirit of British Columbia, to run on both LNG and diesel.

“This is a very exciting day for all of us at BC Ferries, as we proudly welcome this beautiful ship, Salish Orca, home to British Columba and into our fleet,” says Mike Corrigan, BC Ferries’ president and CEO. “The Salish Class vessels will provide us cost savings and efficiencies, with standardized vessels and greater interoperability, as well as enhanced safety, well into the future. They are very well-built ships, which will serve our customers for many years to come.”

According to BC Ferries, using natural gas as the primary fuel source is expected to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by approximately 15% to 25%, reduce sulphur oxides by over 85%, reduce nitrogen oxides by over 50%, and nearly eliminate particulate matter.

Natural Gas is Critical in the Energy Future

Jim Piro, President and CEO of Portland General Electric (PGE) was recently interviewed by the Portland Business Journal about the significant transition underway in the energy landscape. The key takeaway is that PGE is carefully and deliberately moving through it. Mr. Piro wants PGE to learn from others, not pioneer new, unproven resources and regulatory regimes. Mr. Piro also reaffirmed the critical role that natural gas must play in PGE’s generation portfolio to ensure that customers always have electricity when they need it:

 “[I]f the wind doesn’t blow for a day or so batteries can’t help you through that. Gas is needed to bridge that difference… If the lights don’t go on, customers aren’t going to worry about whether the gas is in the ground or not in the ground; they’re going to wonder why [PGE] didn’t meet their needs.”

 Not everyone is happy with PGE’s approach as indicated in a guest editorial by the Sierra Club and other Oregon environmental organizations recently published in the Oregonian. Unfortunately, the authors of the opinion piece use inflammatory language and outdated information to support their case. Their claim about “notoriously volatile” natural gas prices caught our eye and we’d like to set the record straight.

According to the to U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA) natural gas prices were relatively stable from 1981 to 2000, averaging $3.95/Dekatherm (Dth) when adjusted for inflation ($2015). Gas prices during the first decade of the 21st century were indeed volatile as North America struggled to produce enough natural gas to meet growing demand. From 2001 to 2010 natural gas averaged $6.61/Dth and experienced significant volatility associated with cold and hot weather, and hurricanes that disrupted conventional supply resources.onemoretime

 All that changed with the advent of shale gas which began to come online in 2007 and reached game-changing status around 2010. The average price of natural gas from 2011 to 2015 was $3.57/Dth. In 2015, natural gas averaged $2.62/Dth. The future looks equally stable. EIA projects that natural gas prices will rise to $5/Dth ($2015) and remain there as production technologies become more efficient, quicker to come on line and better for the environment. This is a dramatic change from its 2008 price forecast.

Natural gas is an abundant, cleaner, affordable energy resource. As Mr. Piro notes, it is a vital part of enabling more renewable resources in our region and elsewhere. Without natural gas, our power supply will become less reliable and more expensive. Those are the facts.

Natural Gas Supplies in the Pacific Northwest

Pacific Northwest natural gas customers benefit from their proximity to the prolific Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) and U.S. Rocky Mountain (Rockies) natural gas-producing regions.

June 7 -8, 2017: 14th Annual Energy Conference

  • Annual Energy Conference
    June 7, 2017 - June 8, 2017
    11:00 am - 4:30 pm

NWGA Releases the 2016 Gas Outlook

This study, compiled by the NWGA and its members, provides a consensus industry perspective of the Pacific Northwest’s current and projected natural gas supply, demand, prices and delivery capabilities through 2026. The Pacific Northwest, in this case, includes British Columbia (BC) and the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

We have updated data in this 2016 Outlook, but most key conclusions are similar to last year. Most of the trends identified in the 2015 Outlook continue to be relevant. Where appropriate, revised analyses and updated tables/graphics provide details of what’s new.

To download the complete study click here.

Reaping the Shale Natural Gas Bounty

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council recently published a blog, Reaping the Shale Natural Gas Bounty. The Council recognizes that as trite as it has become to say it, North America is in the midst of an energy revolution.

The North American natural gas resource is abundant. Once a pipe dream, technological breakthroughs have made vast gas supplies available. Less than ten years ago, natural gas was thought to be so scarce we were building

facilities to import it from other countries. Once we asked, “Where will we get the natural gas we know we need?” Now we ask, “How can we use the natural gas we know we have?”

North American natural gas is affordable and becoming more so as producers refine extraction technologies. Through the 80s and 90s, the commodity averaged about $4.40 per dekatherm (Dth) when adjusted for inflation. In 2015, the average price was $2.62/Dth. Northwest consumers alone have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs over just the last few years.

North American Natural gas is also a cleaner energy resource. Whether as a flexible generation fuel that makes renewable resources viable and displaces coal; as a transportation fuel to replace diesel, gasoline and bunker fuel, or used directly to warm homes, cook and heat water, the increased use of natural gas is reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The EIA reports emissions are at the lowest rate since 1993. Using natural gas responsibly and directly will drive GHG emissions even lower.

The Council poses a number of good questions in its blog. We maintain that natural gas is an abundant, affordable, cleaner and more efficient energy resource. It is already helping to address many of the energy, economic and environmental issues confronting North America. Natural gas is an immediate and enduring solution to today’s concerns, using today’s technologies.

2015 Outlook Spotlight: Clean and Efficient- Benefits of Direct Use of Natural Gas

We’re highlighting some of the guest posts featured in our 2015 Outlook here on the blog. The following excerpt discusses the opportunity to reduce emissions via the direct use of natural gas. To access the full Outlook study please click here.

For many years, energy agencies have alerted Americans to the importance of energy efficiency.  A variety of tags and certifications, backed by financial incentives, encourage us to understand our equipment buying options.  We know that it makes sense to spend a little more on a product so that we can save money and energy throughout its useful life.

These efforts continue to reduce per capita energy use for both natural gas and electric customers. And the more energy we save, the lower our impact on the environment.

But focusing on product efficiency only reveals half the story. To get the whole picture, it’s important to look at what’s called the full fuel cycle. That means understanding how much energy is retained — or lost — from the energy’s source until its final use in your water heater, oven or home heating system.

And with the full fuel cycle in mind, direct use of natural gas comes out a winner in the energy efficiency race.

For instance, by the time you turn on your electric appliance, up to 62 of the energy value from the original fuel has been lost. So the full fuel cycle efficiency is about 38 percent.  The full fuel cycle efficiency of a natural gas appliance is about 92 percent — a substantial difference.

Here’s how it works.

Even with advances in renewable power, most electricity in the U.S. is generated by either coal or natural gas.

  • We lose about 5 percent of the energy benefits of those fuels during the transportation process — before they arrive at the power plant.
  • The major energy loss occurs during generation.  Burning a fuel to create electricity wastes about 62 percent of its energy. That lost energy turns into heat, rather than useful power.
  • Finally, we lose another 6 percent of the energy over the electric transmission lines.

So for every 100 MMBtu of fuel that leaves the mine or the well, only 32 MMBtu reaches our appliances.  The rest is lost.

These fuel choices have important environmental implications.  On average, the house fueled by natural gas is responsible for about 37 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable all-electric home.  Furthermore, the more fuel we waste, the more we need to produce and transport — processes that also affect the environment.

We are approaching a future when a combination of wind, solar, wave energy and usable storage will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Until then, one of the most effective ways we have to save energy and reduce carbon emissions today is to use natural gas directly in our homes and businesses wherever gas is available.

Key Takeaways From The WSU Emissions Study

Important news in the natural gas utility world last week with the release of a study published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, detailing a dramatic decrease in methane emissions from US local distribution systems when compared to prior estimates.

The study was led by the Northwest’s own Washington State University, with the support of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Conestoga-Rovers and Associates, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, and major natural gas utilities from across the US.

Check out the video below for a review of study’s justification and methodology:

Three key takeaways from the study (you can access the entire study by clicking here):

“The researchers found that upgrades in metering and regulating stations, changes in pipeline materials, better instruments for detecting pipeline leaks as well as regulatory changes have led to methane emissions that are from 36% to 70% lower than current Environmental Protection Agency estimates when the data gathered for this study is combined with current pipeline miles and the numbers of facilities.”

  • When returning to sites identified as large methane emitters in a study performed by the Gas Research Institute (GRI) in 1992, the researchers found significant emissions reductions in facilities that had been upgraded or replaced with newer equipment:

“To understand the large reductions found in this work relative to the GRI/EPA results, we identified nine facilities from among the larger emitting sites measured during the GRI/ EPA 1992 program to resample with our high-flow and tracer- ratio techniques. These results show substantial reductions in emissions from each individual station (factors of 2 to 50) from 1992 to the present, with one exception. In two cases, the local operator indicated that significant equipment changes had occurred at the site; while at a third site, the local operator indicated that there had been no equipment upgrades at the site in the past 20 years. This particular site was the only site without a significant reduction in emissions.”

  • While emissions nationwide were lower than prior estimates, utilities located in the Western US were responsible for emissions rates even lower than the national average:

“We also examined how emissions from pipeline leaks varied on a regional basis in the U.S. due to differences in pipeline type and miles by region (see SI Section S4.3; there was no statistical difference in EFs by region). The eastern region accounts for 34% of the total U.S. CH4 from pipeline leaks, while the western region contributes less than 20% (Figure 1). In the eastern region, emissions are dominated by leaks from cast iron and unprotected steel characteristic of older systems. As such, leaks from cast iron and unprotected steel pipe account for 70% of the eastern emissions and almost half of total U.S. emissions. In the western region, systems are newer with more miles of plastic and protected steel pipe, and leaks from these systems contribute less than 5% of the total U.S. emissions. These regional variations and the low emissions associated with plastic pipes are significant as the U.S. moves toward replacement of older pipelines with plastic and uses plastic for new distribution expansion.”

This study was the third in a series reviewing methane emissions from throughout the natural gas supply chain. In each case the research was performed with the cooperation of the EDF, an academic institution, and relevant natural gas facility owners and operators.

Stay tuned for a blog in the coming weeks where we’ll discuss some of the parallels between each of the three studies.

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