National Grid offers ‘fossil-free’ vision for gas system in New York

National Grid serves approximately 1.9 million gas customers in parts of New York and Long Island, as well as 600,000 gas customers and 1.6 million electric customers in upstate New York. The UK-based utility also released a similar plan for its Massachusetts operations on Tuesday.

The company said its plan can reduce emissions from its system in accordance with New York’s emissions mandate, but the analysis appears to hinge on the rewrite of the hard-fought climate law that New York lawmakers have adopted in 2019.

This includes a change to how the warming impact of greenhouse gases is assessed, with National Grid preferring a longer time horizon which gives less weight to the impact of methane – the molecule they want to continue to deliver to customers. National Grid’s plan also does not account for the carbon dioxide emitted when renewable gas is burned in the same way as New York.

Wynter said no other state uses the 20-year global warming potential and treats renewable natural gas nearly the same as geologic gas.

“We think this is something that needs to be rethought in New York State,” he said. “Renewable natural gas is a way to capture these methane emissions that would occur naturally in water treatment facilities, in landfills, on farms, and instead of releasing them into the atmosphere, we capture them. , reallocate them for use in the grid, and then it moves geologic natural gas.

What National Grid is asking for

National Grid’s vision is for half of buildings to use electric heat pumps; a quarter to stay on a “fossil-free” gas system; and the remaining quarter to use electricity mostly with “fossil-free” gas backups on the coldest winter days.

Energy efficiency would reduce demand. The gas system would gradually reduce and switch to using 20% ​​green hydrogen, with an increasing amount of renewable gas making up the rest, the company estimated.

The hybrid option could reduce the initial costs of small electric heat pumps that would still provide cooling and heating benefits at more moderate temperatures.

The draft state climate plan does not envision any significant role for the gas system or hybrid heating options. Buildings are the biggest source of emissions in New York.

In all of the pathways outlined to achieve the emission reductions required by law, the electrification of nearly all of the building stock is of central concern. Even under a proposal with increased use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen and renewable gas, 89% of buildings would need to be electrified to meet state goals, according to the state plan.

Only 7% would use alternative fuels. Hybrid options would be reserved for large commercial or institutional buildings.

National Grid’s vision stated that their approach would be more affordable for customers and would require less extensive construction of the power grid. The company relied on a Massachusetts analysis to make the cost claim. The path cited by the company provides for the electrification of more than 90% of the buildings, but would leave gas in place as a backup solution on cold winter days. It foresees 75% renewable gas in the pipeline network by 2050.

What’s next in the climate change debate

National Grid opposed a move to ban the use of fossil fuels in new construction as part of the state budget passed earlier this month. Halting the continued construction of gas infrastructure is a key part of the draft climate plan.

“Our concern and my concern is taking any clean energy option off the table so early in the transition is our biggest concern,” Wynter said. “We totally agree that we’re going to have to electrify a lot of New York State’s heat load.”

Building new homes with gas appliances probably locks them in for 15 to 30 years, given the lifespan of heating equipment. Costs for new single-family homes with electric heat in upstate New York are about $10,000 higher than gas, according to NYSERDA. Electric multi-family homes are closer to cost parity.

New York’s draft plan calls for small buildings and new single-family homes to be free of fossil fuels by 2024 and multi-family buildings over 4 stories by 2027. It calls for a ban on installing furnaces replacement gas in single-family homes and small buildings by 2030 and in larger settings by 2035.

The plan calls for 1-2 million buildings to be electric by 2030 and thereafter 250,000 buildings electrified each year from 2030. National Grid notes that replacing gas appliances at the end of their useful life translates to a slower pace, with only 4.7 million of around 8 million buildings electrified in 2050.

There is no proposed mandate for current owners to install electric heat before a gas appliance needs to be replaced. Such an “early retirement” requirement is being considered for large buildings.

The measures call for a drastic increase in incentives to support electrification and efficiency programs, but they lack a funding source.

“This is an alternative route that continues to give some customers who cannot afford to convert and replace their equipment with an electric heat pump another route without giving up on our clean energy goals” , Wynter said. “I haven’t heard of any incentives yet, so I’m going to assume a customer is going to pay to switch.”

Continuing to burn gas – whether from cow manure or mined from the ground – and hydrogen would still have emissions of co-pollutants harmful to human health, including NOx. Wynter said there are emerging technologies that can reduce the levels of these emissions.

Steps towards renewable energies

It’s not just New York’s climate plan that has focused on building electrification as the best option. The UN’s recent IPCC report, the Massachusetts Decarbonization Plan, and the International Energy Agency all point to heat pumps as a more viable strategy to address building emissions than hydrogen or carbon dioxide. renewable gases.

National Grid’s Massachusetts plan warns that relying on renewable gas is more expensive and poses a risk of shutting down fossil fuel infrastructure if those sources don’t become available. Electrifying new buildings also avoids investing in stranded gas assets, the company said.

Wynter said he was confident renewable natural gas would be available in sufficient quantities for National Grid’s plan. National Grid expects to need 150 TBtu of renewable gas and 70 TBtu of hydrogen in 2050 to support its plan. Grid says that’s about 5-15% of the potential production forecast for the eastern US.

The American Gas Association estimates that, on the high end, New York has the potential to produce about 60 TBtu of renewable gas in 2040.

“I think we see a lot of potential for renewable natural gas. I don’t think we have evidence that we’re in danger of not happening,” Wynter said, citing the recent enactment of a renewable gas standard for utilities in California and clean fuel standards.

There are many projects to bury or dispose of manure in drains are underway in upstate New York, with most emissions-related benefits to be sold in California. National Grid’s own pilot for pipeline-grade gas from sewage in New York has faces years of delay but is expected to go live in July. The company is also piloting a green hydrogen blend to serve 800 homes in Hempstead.

The company, as part of its plan, also says it supports switching customers from oil to electric heat, tougher building codes and a “market-based” carbon price to encourage clean heat.

National Grid has fought a proposal to reshape state building codes to consider life-cycle costs and emissions impacts to increase efficiency during state budget discussions. Wynter said the company supports “any policy that will strengthen building standards.”

“But we are also aware and concerned about the cost it would have for end consumers,” he added. “The right balance needs to be struck, and we need to assess all technologies in their ability to deliver that – not just the electrification path.”

National Grid also wants the state to require gas utilities to start sourcing renewable gas, with the costs passed on to ratepayers. The company also supports allowing utilities to own geothermal district heating systems, green hydrogen incentives, and building “hydrogen hubs” in some areas.

“Our plan calls for the next steps — obviously engaging elected officials, engaging our regulators, seeking approval to procure renewable natural gas,” Wynter said. “Also, on these next steps, drivers along the way will show us how to scale these things.”

The state Climate Action Council is finalizing the draft plan, which is currently open for public comment, before its year-end deadline.

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