BCUC's Renewable Natural Gas Inquiry

Tom Hackney and Bill Andrews

20 February 2023

Final reply arguments are being filed in the BC Utilities Commission’s Inquiry into the Acquisition of Renewable Natural Gas by Public Utilities in British Columbia

Renewable natural gas (RNG) currently means biomethane: pipeline quality gas produced from waste biomass. RNG is considered zero-carbon for these purposes (although the carbon intensity RNG can be debated). BC’s Clean Energy Act and the GHG Reduction Regulation (GGRR) allow BC gas utilities like FortisBC Energy Inc. (FEI) and Pacific Northern Gas (PNG) to buy and deliver RNG to their customers. This displaces customers’ use of fossil natural gas and reduces GHG emissions in BC. Using RNG (biomethane) to displace fossil natural gas in deliveries by BC utilities is a significant component of the government’s CleanBC climate action plan.

At stake in the inquiry, however, is whether the BCUC will redefine “renewable natural gas” under the GGRR to go beyond biomethane to include concepts like carbon offsets unrelated to biomethane. The idea (that BCSEA disagrees with) is that carbon offsets, etc., would be cheaper than biomethane (possibly, says BCSEA) while being a genuinely valid equivalent to biomethane (completely unproven, says BCSEA).

In its 1 February 2023 final argument to the inquiry, BCSEA strongly opposed the Commission redefining RNG beyond biomethane to include environmental attributes unrelated to actual RNG. BCSEA said the BC public substantially understands and accepts that renewable natural gas (i.e., biomethane) delivered by BC’s natural gas public utilities is a legitimate and practical method of displacing fossil natural gas and reducing BC GHG emissions. BCSEA said it is very concerned that this public acceptance of renewable natural gas could be severely damaged by artificially expanding “renewable natural gas” beyond biomethane to include completely different concepts.

BCSEA said that the GHG-reduction mechanisms being considered by the inquiry, such as environmental attributes not associated with RNG, carbon capture and storage, carbon offsets and carbon capture at source, may well have merit for implementation by the BC Government upon examination and consultation. However, BCSEA emphasized that these mechanisms are simply not renewable natural gas. BCSEA said that “trying to slide them into use in BC under the cover of calling them renewable natural gas would risk tainting the renewable natural gas concept in BC.”

In its 16 February 2023 reply argument to the inquiry, BCSEA emphasized the important difference between the existing mechanism for RNG established by the CEA and GGRR (described above) and the future compliance pathways that will form part of the ‘GHG Reduction Standard’ (aka, ‘hard cap’) called for in the CleanBC Roadmap to 2030. BCSEA noted that the BC government itself has not yet determined what non-biomethane concepts, if any, will be compliance pathways for BC gas utilities under GHG Reduction Standard. However, BCSEA stressed that it is the role of the government, not the BCUC, to determine the pathways for gas utilities to meet the government’s upcoming GHG requirements on gas utilities.The deadline for reply arguments is 22 February 2023. After that, we will await the inquiry panel’s decision. As we are also awaiting the government’s progress on legislating the ‘hard cap’ on GHG emissions from BC gas utilities.