May 2023, Vol. 250, No. 5

Guest Perspective

Pipelines a Vital Part of RNG, Cleaner Future

By Consumer Energy Alliance 

(P&GJ) — Despite misguided opposition around existing or new natural gas pipeline projects, this infrastructure is vital to the United States’ emerging clean energy future for a reason few climate activists talk much about.

Pipelines are critical now and in the future for transporting landfill gas (yes, all of our trash) and renewable natural gas, or RNG, from agricultural sources (think cattle and pig waste) that can be blended into our energy mix. 

RNG is increasingly viewed as another promising renewable technology along with wind and solar power that can help reduce emissions while ensuring our grid remains reliable and resilient. Biofuels are expected to moderately increase through 2050, providing a diverse range of energy including the eventual use of blue and green hydrogen in our future electricity mix.  

Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to just how to transport this energy to utilities and customers. This is why existing pipelines are one of the biggest solutions to making this idea a reality. 

Yet it will take time for RNG to further mature and production to accelerate. It will require decades before the wind, solar and other renewables or battery storage technology can supply the nation’s baseline energy needs without the need for clean and inexpensive natural gas. 

Thus, it’s imperative to continue to maintain, repair and replace existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure or build new pipelines so they can carry RNG when the time comes. Many opponents of natural gas say this creates a lifeline to the fuel source without considering there is nothing currently to replace it. 

We can’t conflate the future evolution many years down the road with the present need. 

To underscore this point for modern pipeline infrastructure, simply recognize that over 90% of Western New York homes and businesses and 75% of New Jersey households rely on natural gas as their primary heating source. Natural gas is the overwhelming supplier for power generation in Downstate New York now that the Indian Point Nuclear power plant has been shut down prematurely.  

In fact, nearly all of New York’s low carbon sources of power are in Upstate New York and far away from load centers, which New York’s state Energy Research and Development Authority has dubbed the “tale of two grids.” 

Nationwide, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that natural gas accounted for 42% of residential energy consumption in 2020. 

The Transportation Department considers pipelines the safest, most environmentally friendly and most efficient and reliable mode of transporting natural gas. We also have tens of thousands of miles of this infrastructure in the ground in the Mid-Atlantic alone.  

They are already paid for and in service for millions of businesses, homes and commercial enterprises. Despite their use now, this is why these pipelines will be essential in the future to carry RNG to industrial sites, manufacturers or utilities to generate electricity and home heating. 

RNG as a significant green  power or home heating supply isn’t just a pipe dream either. It serves as a solution to the billions of gallons of animal manure and millions of tons of food waste generated each year in the U.S. Agricultural opponents decry the methane produced during the industrial process of growing food – and this is one of the leading opportunities to do something about it.  

The government in 2014 estimated that the U.S. could support at least 13,000 biogas facilities fed by such waste, and they would produce enough renewable energy to power three million homes. 

As for natural gas companies accepting or planning to receive RNG into their pipeline networks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed 55 of them in a July 2020 overview. The EPA noted that the delivery method can be expensive for a number of reasons.  

But it also noted that pipeline injection can convey the RNG across a vast distribution network and furnish flexibility on how and where the RNG is ultimately used. Plus, RNG costs will decline as technology and other advances emerge, similar to the price decreases we saw across solar and wind technology from their more recent inception. 

It’s obvious that if we don’t actively support and promote a modern natural gas pipeline system, we won’t have the infrastructure in the future when it is needed for transporting RNG to meet our energy demands. Let’s start treating our pipeline infrastructure as a solution to our clean energy goals rather than something to be vilified. 

Consumer Energy Alliance is an advocacy group supporting affordable energy policies. 

VNG Receives Approval for Renewable Pilot Program 

(P&GJ) — A five-year pilot from Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) aims to encourage the development of renewable natural gas (RNG) production facilities within the VNG service territory.

Recently approved by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the RNG Interconnect pilot program also authorizes the company to integrate RNG into its natural gas distribution system.    

The pilot is part of the energy company’s Sustainable Gas Program, which will allow for the production and delivery of RNG into VNG’s pipeline system and support the procurement of both RNG and natural gas. 

This is complementary to VNG’s path to reach net-zero direct greenhouse emissions from its operations by 2050.   

VNG is the first local distribution company in the state to establish a Commission-approved tariff that allows an interconnection between an RNG production facility and a natural gas utility’s distribution system.  

“At Virginia Natural Gas, we are committed to supporting the development of renewable energy sources as we pursue our climate and environmental goals,” said Robert Duvall, president of VNG. “The approval of this pilot program is a significant step as we move forward to develop sustainable, environmentally responsible solutions while helping our state lead in the progress toward a clean energy future.”  

As part of the approval, VNG will be able to interconnect RNG production facilities with its existing natural gas pipeline distribution system to encourage the production and delivery of a resilient, alternative source of natural gas while providing additional benefits for the distribution system, customers and local economies.  

RNG is a low- or negative-carbon energy solution that is derived from organic waste including farm, municipal, landfill and industrial waste. As these organic waste sources decompose, methane is produced, which is captured and converted to RNG.  

It is a sustainable and reliable energy source that is compatible with existing infrastructure when blended with natural gas. RNG can be integrated into the VNG distribution system, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and can be used directly in a manner consistent with traditional natural gas for residential, commercial, industrial and transportation purposes. 

Along with VNG’s efforts to support sustainable gas supply opportunities like RNG, other emission reduction efforts at VNG include innovative technologies, such as the use of artificial intelligence to predict third-party damages to critical infrastructure.  

Additionally, VNG is reducing emissions through the Steps to Advance Virginia’s Energy (SAVE) program by renewing its natural gas infrastructure, replacing aging pipes with new, more durable materials that reduce methane emissions, continue the safe delivery of natural gas, and are less expensive to maintain. 

Since the program began in 2012, VNG has replaced more than 500 miles of aging pipeline, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 31%.  

The energy company is also using innovative cross-compression technologies to capture natural gas removed during maintenance activities and reinsert it back into the pipeline system for continued use. This results in less gas or methane entering the atmosphere.  

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