Natural gas may provide a solution for some of the societal problems policymakers are tackling, including greenhouse gases.
“To say we can electrify everything and that will solve the problem ignores a lot of problems,” Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Northwest Gas Association, told a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum audience Monday. “The question is what are the thoughtful pathways forward that allow us to achieve the same objectives at a fraction of the cost and disruption to our society.”
He said technology is enabling the reduction of our carbon footprint.
Kirschner said Northwest gas distribution systems — including Rogue Valley provider Avista Utilities — are newer than most of the nation’s. A Washington State University study showed that the region’s emission rates are much lower than in other parts of the country, as well.
Natural gas is complementary to wind and solar energy, Kirschner said, picking up the slack when there is no wind or at night. Methane produced from waste at landfills, water treatment plants, dairy farms and other agricultural sites can be converted into energy, as well.
“If we can capture this waste stream, which is the result of human activity, and make good use of it, why wouldn’t we?” he said.
Rogue Disposal & Recycling, he noted, captures methane at its Dry Creek Landfill northeast of Medford and converts it into electricity to power the site.
“They’re thinking of higher and better uses for the methane as transportation fuel,” Kirschner said.
In the past decade natural gas prices have trended down and supply has expanded. At the same time, electricity rates have climbed.
“To replace all that energy that we use to heat our homes and businesses across the region could cost those consumers up to 250 percent more for the same amount of energy,” he said.
Down the road, he said, appliance innovation and natural gas heat pumps will lead to more efficiency.
Kirschner said gas technology will open the door to more efficient and cleaner energy.
In the middle of the day, California utilities produce far more energy than their customers demand.
“They give that away,” he said. “They actually pay other utilities to take that energy away, because they can’t do anything with it.”
Kirschner said California utilities are putting electricity through hydrolysis (a process in which a molecule is split into two parts by the addition of a molecule of water with one fragment of the parent molecule gaining a hydrogen ion from the additional water molecule). Through that process, water can be converted to hydrogen. Adding carbon dioxide to the mix creates synthetic methane ready to go into pipelines.
“It’s a proven technology,” he said. “But getting it to scale and making it economic is the challenge.”
Southern Oregon natural gas users have seen spikes in their costs following the Oct. 9 rupture and explosion of a gas line in British Columbia.
A commercial gas user at the Chamber Forum asked Kirschner when prices might stabilize.
“Because of this pipeline rupture we’re getting about a little less than 75 percent of what we might expect to the region from that pipeline,” Kirschner said. “That could be a deficit that lasts as long as the entire winter.”
Canadian pipeline owner Enbridge is testing each section of the pipeline — about 50 miles a time — checking for anomalies, he said.
“If something doesn’t look right, they dig it up,” Kirschner said. “That’s a process that’s going to take some time.”
He said the British Columbia pipeline is operating at about 85 percent pressure, and sections that can add the most volume back to the system are being inspected first.