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Richland, Washington Opens Landfill Facility That Captures & Cleans Natural Gas

#UPDATE: 3/29/24 The Office of Governor Jay Inslee reached out just hours after this article was published. Their concerns and our questions about them are located at the end of the original article.

ORIGINAL CONTENT: Normally, I would be excited about this news from Richland, Washington. The city just opened a new facility that takes natural gas created by a landfill and converts it to usable energy in Washington State households. Pine Creek RNG and the City of Richland agreed back in 2017 to build the new landfill gas treatment system and turn methane gas at the City's landfill into renewable natural gas. A large majority of businesses and households in the Tri-Cities area and all over Washington State use natural gas for heating and energy. There are two separate facilities finished, one at Horn Rapids Landfill and the other at the Lamb Weston potato processing plant. The two plants together can produce 2.5 million therms of renewable natural gas per year. How does this work you ask?


How Does the Landfill Renewable Natural Gas Facility Work?

Renewable natural gas is made naturally from waste in landfills and the facility would capture the methane that would otherwise leak into the atmosphere. Instead, the natural gas is gathered and then purified to be used in homes. The leaked natural gas created by those areas in the past was mostly consumed by constantly burning flares which will no longer be used. Pine Creek RNG from Denver and Avista Power in Spokane worked with the City of Richland to build both treatment facilities. Even though this step is exciting, it might all be for nothing after a Bill Washington Governor Jay Inslee is signing today.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Washington Governor Inslee to Sign Bill That Will Phase Out Natural Gas

I have a natural gas furnace in my home, which is one of the reasons we bought the house we chose in the first place. Now, Washington State is moving to eventually ban natural gas with a Bill Governor Inslee is supposed to sign today. Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1589 would allow utilities to move away from natural gas. On the surface, it might seem like a good idea until you look at the real numbers of both cost and impact on pollution in Washington State. Did you know that a large portion of the electricity used in Washington State comes from a Colstrip coal-fired plant in Montana and the Jim Bridger coal-fired plant in Wyoming? According to a study published by the Washington  State Department of Ecology, "Electricity consumption in 2019 accounted for nearly 21 percent of statewide total GHG emissions. This is a 33 percent increase over 2018 and a 29 percent increase over 1990 for this sector. Electricity sector data is available through 2020 and it shows that emissions then dropped 35 percent to 16 percent below the 1990 emissions for the electricity sector."


Study Shows Coal Pollution Likely to Replace Natural Gas

The study also shows natural gas accounts for a much smaller percentage of 28% compared to coal at over 70% of the pollution created to produce electricity alone. When Washington's electricity consumption has increased in the past, it is coal that is used to fill the gap historically according to their own data in the study. I personally do not see the logic in creating much more pollution from coal to eliminate natural gas. Not only will our energy prices go up, a majority of homeowners will have to spend thousands replacing appliances, and the pollution created by coal electricity plants will increase greatly. Read the data for yourself (scroll down to page 25 or 26), then contact your local Washington State representative and let them know how you feel. Even if Governor Inslee signs Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1589, the voters of Washington State can strike it down and make it all go away in November by passing Initiative 2117.

UPDATE 3/29/2024

Just hours after publishing this article, the Deputy Communications Director/Press Secretary for the Office of Governor Jay Inslee- Mike Faulk emailed with these concerns:

"The bill allows PSE to invest more in low-emitting and ultimately non-emitting sources, including renewable natural gas, as that would decarbonize their system. Additionally, this bill is not a ban. The author also misses that the Clean Energy Transformation Act, passed in 2019, requires electric utilities that serve retail customers (to) phase out coal-fired electricity from their energy mix by 2025. Natural gas use is not going to be replaced by coal."

Yes I agree, the Clean Energy Transformation Act does require the use of coal-burning electricity to a halt by 2025, but the Governor has not said where that electricity will come from.


- The revised bill only mentions the prohibition of offering incentives/rebates for adding natural gas. See current text, page 19 section 8.1 and would mostly only affect PSE customers.

- Also, PSE says they are still obligated to serve natural gas customers and aren't eliminating that service and renewable natural gas would be permitted sources of energy. Natural Gas (NG) is a fossil fuel; renewable natural gas (RNG) is obtained from biomass sources and the difference is explained here.

- HB 1589 defines "renewable natural gas" as a "renewable resource" (34e). Because of this, there is no threat to the RNG plants that have just been built near Richland

- However, what they won't say is the bill makes no allowances for renewable natural gas to be used by PSE if they decide to transition away from natural gas.

- They also leave out the direction the Building Code Council has taken (appointed by the Governor) in banning natural gas, without an exception for renewable natural gas, in new residential and commercial construction.

"Higher Demand was Met with More Carbon-intensive Resources Such as Coal and Natural Gas"

The U.S. Energy Association says that the consumption estimates of Washington State for 2021 were the following: Hysdro Power - 243.5 trillion Btu, Natural Gas - 384.8 trillion Btu, Nuclear Power - 88.8 trillion Btu, Biomass - 132.6 trillion Btu, and Coal - 36.9 trillion Btu. Washington State also exports around 109.3 trillion Btu to other states like California. In the Ecology study I quoted before it states, in 2019 "Higher demand was met with more carbon-intensive resources such as coal and natural gas. The decline in 2020 is a result of improved hydropower conditions, milder weather, and a decline in demand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which substantially affected the global economy and energy use." In Washington's history, carbon-based energy like coal and natural gas has made up the difference in an energy shortfall and I still have not heard any solutions from the Governor about HOW and WHERE this shortfall energy will come from.

Even at only 5% of the total estimated energy consumption (hydro, natural gas, nuclear, coal), coal accounts for 70% of consumption-based electricity sector pollutants which shows that even when used in small amounts, coal creates huge amounts of pollution. Maybe Washington State won't be forced to continue to use coal after natural gas is phased out, but right now natural gas makes a large chunk of the "energy consumption" of Washington State. If the Governor's office doesn't want to call their policies a "ban" on natural gas then why "ban" natural gas appliances for all new buildings if "renewable natural gas" is being pushed? These questions have been sent to the Deputy Communications Director/Press Secretary for the Office of Governor Jay Inslee- Mike Faulk and I will write a follow-up on their response.

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