Analysis of costs, availability and impact show it is not the answer
By Kathy Conway
In a letter to customers, Avista makes the offer that “…you now have a new option to add renewable natural gas and lower your carbon footprint.” But how generous is this offer and what does it do for our climate?
Is this smart for my pocketbook?
Avista’s rate per therm for residential customers is $1.20148. In its letter, Avista invites customers to add $3.33 to the price of each therm, for a total price of $4.53 per therm which approaches four times the current rate. Gas users be warned! Presumably, this is the price Avista considers would be necessary to charge customers for this so-called Renewable Natural Gas. It indicates what the future holds for rates if Avista achieves its goal of replacing fracked methane with RNG.
Is there enough RNG to do this?
If we accept the argument that RNG is an improvement over methane (natural) gas, it is worth noting that there is only limited RNG capacity in Oregon. A 2018 Oregon Department of Energy report indicated that the technological maximum for production was then about 17.5% of statewide gas usage. Other assessments place the maximum national capacity for RNG at 4 to 7% of gas usage. Clearly, maximally, RNG can barely put a dent in current methane gas usage. Increasing RNG supply requires increasing landfills, Confined Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOs), mega-dairies, etc. and thus amplifying their negative environmental consequences.
Is this the way to address climate change?
The latest United Nations Environment Programme Stockholm + 50 report clearly urges the complete phase-out of all fossil fuels. The message is clear: in an energy economy seeking to address the climate crisis, there is no room for methane (natural) gas. This is because substantial methane leakage occurs from fracking, through processing and transmission, and even leakage from residential appliances. Any benefits that accrue because methane combustion yields more energy per unit of carbon dioxide emitted is negated by this leakage.
While much electricity is currently generated from coal and gas, we know that the future is 100% clean generation of electricity, especially in Oregon, where retail electricity in Oregon will be 100% clean by 2040.This means that our goal should be to electrify our lives as much as possible. As we move in this direction, we recognize that some industrial processes (e.g., cement) are difficult to electrify. The limited RNG available should, therefore, not simply be inserted into pipelines but reserved for these specialized applications.
It’s also worth noting the growing evidence that combustion of methane gas produces nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and methane, that trigger respiratory conditions, depression and general health problems. We should not allow it in our living spaces.
In summary, we should not encourage an industry business model that seeks to maintain our dependence on their destructive product for decades.
Kathy Conway is co-facilitator for Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.