Should you use ‘renewable natural gas’?

Kathy Conway, Co-facilitator, Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, Ashland.News June 30 2022

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 – 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.


2 replies
  1. Noël Chatroux
    Noël Chatroux says:

    Thank you Ellen for your response with useful data to support it.
    I was taken aback by Avista’s argument that renewable natural gas diverts methane that would otherwise simply dissipate into the atmosphere and thereby worsen the greenhouse effect. Your counter argument that RNG should be used to fuel industries that are difficult to support with renewable energy, like the manufacture of cement, seems intelligent to me, considering that RNG alone could never meet the needs for residential energy.

  2. Alan Journet
    Alan Journet says:

    There is no doubt that we should not be allowing the methane that results from anaerobic (oxygen-free) digestion of biomass to escape into the atmosphere, whether it comes from landfills, waste management facilities, confined animal feedlot operations or mega-dairies. It is better to burn it (flare it) than let the methane escape since combustion of methane results in carbon dioxide. Since methane is 86 times worse as a global warming agent per pound than carbon dioxide, it’s better to convert that methane to carbon dioxide than let it escape. However, even though our goal should be to eliminate methane (natural) gas completely, as indicated, some industries cannot electrify yet. Thus, rather than wasting that digestion product by flaring it or inserting it into pipelines and extending our dependence on gas, we should use it for those industries. It is unfortunate that industries such as those marketing gas commit themselves to continuing their gas-dependent business model rather than undertake a substantial re-think of their operations, and simply convert themselves into producing genuinely emissions-free energy. In fact, elsewhere Avista is in the electricity business and promotes clean renewable energy in the generation of that electricity. Unfortunately, Avista does not have the franchise for electricity in Southern Oregon; that belongs to Pacific Corps and, in Ashland, the Ashland Municipal Electric Utility.
    I understand that several years ago, we thought it was reasonable to view gas as a bridge fuel to a genuinely renewable future. But that was before we learned how bad methane is as a warming agent, and how much of it leaks from fracking, through processing and transmission, and even from the appliances in our homes. Gas companies would be more sympathetic if they had not spent vast sums of money marketing their product as ‘the clean fossil fuel” long after the leakage of methane was revealed. This latest attempt at misinformation (or is it disinformation?) does not reflect well on a company that has already lost credibility.

    Alan Journet


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *