Central Valley dairies take lead in renewable energy

SoCalGas booth at World Ag Expo shows how California dairies will begin producing renewable natural gas to meet the state’s alternative energy goals

@TheSunGazette

TULARE – San Joaquin Valley agriculture leaders helped host agriculture innovation at the World Ag Expo this week. And Southern California Gas Co. is there showing the rest of the world how Valley dairies are at the forefront of renewable energy.

SoCalGas debuted its World Agricultural Expo exhibit booth yesterday, Feb. 12 with the theme “Clean, Renewable and Affordable” highlighting the important role natural gas plays in California’s clean energy future. Visitors to the booth will learn about the benefits of natural gas by taking the “SoCalGas Challenge” – a series of five stations each highlighting the value of natural gas. The stations include information on residential energy efficiency programs, business energy efficiency programs, customer assistance programs, natural gas vehicles and renewable energy.

“Our display at the World Agricultural Expo is a way for SoCalGas to show how natural gas can help the state achieve its climate goals in a way that is affordable for all Californians,” said Sharon Tomkins, vice president of customer solutions and strategy at SoCalGas. “The San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural and dairy industries, which can produce renewable fuels, uniquely positions the region to play a large role in attaining those goals.”

SoCalGas’ 30-foot “Giant Shovel” will return to the Expo once again this year to bring attention to SoCalGas’ safety initiatives and programs at the exhibit, located at H and Meridian Streets in the northwest section of the International Agri-Center. Chief among the initiatives for agriculture is the utility’s work to get more renewable natural gas (RNG) flowing into its pipeline system.

RNG can be used anywhere conventional natural gas is used – to heat your homes, cook your food or as a transportation fuel. Currently, SoCalGas is investing more than $150 million in four dairy RNG pilot projects in the San Joaquin Valley. It is anticipated that 45 California dairies will be producing RNG for injection into utility pipelines in the next few years. This is important because research by the University of California, Davis suggests more than 20 percent of California’s current residential natural gas use can be provided by RNG made from the state’s existing organic waste. RNG is one of many clean and renewable tools available as the state looks for climate solutions.

The SoCalGas exhibit will also provide information on other available technologies, such as power-to-gas, which converts excess electricity into hydrogen or renewable methane that can be stored in natural gas pipelines and used as needed. Research also shows that renewable natural gas is a cost-effective solution to reducing emissions in buildings. A recent study showed that California can achieve the same greenhouse gas emissions reductions as electrifying 100 percent of the state’s buildings by displacing 16 to 20 percent of traditional natural gas with renewable natural gas sourced from dairies, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. This scenario is two to three times more cost-effective than mandated electrification and does not require expensive appliance change outs or impose limitations on the forms of energy Californians can choose.

A renewable natural gas solution to reducing emissions from the transportation and building sectors is also consistent with the mandate under Senate Bill 1383 to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, 80 percent of which comes from waste streams, dairies and agriculture. Today, there are already 24 California dairy methane capture projects either operating or in development, and experts estimate there could be as many as 120 projects funded and operating in next five years. In addition, as the state seeks to divert organic waste from landfills and capture emissions from wastewater treatment plants, more and more renewable natural gas will become available.

World Agricultural Expo attendees also have the opportunity to learn about heavy duty near-zero natural gas vehicles and how they can reduce smog-forming NOx emissions by 90 percent. When these vehicles are fueled by RNG, they can also cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent. Representatives will be available during the Expo to explain the benefits of natural gas vehicles and discuss the SoCalGas Truck Loan Program which allows qualified fleet owners to “try before you buy” a 12-liter heavy-duty natural gas truck for up to two weeks. Company representatives at the SoCalGas exhibit will also encourage visitors to sign up for its assistance programs like California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE), which saves eligible customers 20 percent on their natural gas bills, and the Energy Savings Assistance Program, which offers qualifying customers energy-saving home improvements like insulation, weather stripping, caulking, and low-flow shower heads at no charge.

Last year, SoCalGas awarded more than $5.7 million in rebates to residential customers and more than $7.2 million in rebates to business customers. In the last five years alone, SoCalGas energy efficiency programs have saved more than 146 million therms, enough to power 326,000 households a year. These programs also generated nearly $862 million in avoided energy costs, including $161 million in annual customer bill savings during that same five-year period.

SoCalGas is the largest natural gas distribution utility in the United States. SoCalGas delivers affordable, reliable, clean and increasingly renewable natural gas service to 21.8 million customers across 24,000 square miles of Central and Southern California, where more than 90 percent of residents use natural gas for heating, hot water, cooking, drying clothes or other uses.

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