As we celebrate Earth Day, the American Gas Association’s commitment on behalf of America’s natural gas utilities to be part of the solution to the complex challenge of climate change has never been stronger. New Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data illustrates the progress we have made in the past three decades, and we know we will achieve more by working together with other sectors of the energy industry and through partnerships with farmers, small businesses, and community advocates. Our industry has proven that we can help lower emissions while simultaneously providing Americans with the reliable, affordable energy they need.
We know we can deliver successful clean energy solutions that will make for a stronger economy and a healthier environment while still protecting the pocketbooks of all our customers. These ideal outcomes take an all-hands-on-deck approach and the natural gas industry is proud to continue to play a leadership role in developing solutions.
The expanded role of natural gas in America’s energy mix is the single largest factor in power sector emissions reductions reaching 27-year lows. It’s also allowing households using natural gas to fuel their appliances to save an average of $879 per year compared to homes using only electricity. As we continue on the path to economic recovery, every dollar helps.
One of the most effective means to reduce emissions is through energy efficiency and our industry is doing its part. Natural gas utilities invest $3.9 million daily in efficiency programs in the U.S. and Canada. These investments help customers reduce their carbon footprints, offsetting more than 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from 2012 to 2018 the equivalent of removing 2.9 million cars off the road for a year.
Investments like these are bearing fruit. Just last week, the EPA released its Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, which shows that annual emissions from the natural gas distribution system declined 69% from 1990 to 2019, as natural gas utility companies added more than 788,000 miles of pipeline to serve 21 million more customers. Distribution systems owned and operated by local natural gas utilities emit only 0.08% of produced natural gas.
These are good developments that should be celebrated, but more can and should be done. Our mission to deliver cleaner energy involves both more innovation and greater transparency. We are reimagining our industry for the future by innovating today.
One area of significant potential is through greater deployment of high-value sources of energy like renewable natural gas and hydrogen. Renewable natural gas (RNG) is a carbon-neutral energy produced from methane captured from farms, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. In addition to helping these industries reduce their own environmental impact, RNG is a usable energy that we are integrating into our existing pipeline infrastructure and delivering to customers.
A recent assessment shows RNG has the potential to play a substantial role in lowering emissions from natural gas (as much as 95% in the residential sector) with costs that are competitive with other emissions reduction pathways. Extended research and investment into RNG will enable it to flow from production points to customers all over America through already existing infrastructure, minimizing costs for consumers and the need to build expensive new systems. Our 2.6 million miles of pipelines can also be used to deliver hydrogen and other energy sources of the future.
We are also committed to transparency and ensuring clear information is available related to emissions for regulators, customers, investors, and other stakeholders. Through the Natural Gas Sustainability Initiative, a joint effort with electric utilities, pipelines, and producers, we have created industry-wide environmental, social, governance (ESG) reporting metrics. Natural gas utilities remain an excellent choice for investors and we will provide the data and metrics they need to show our commitment to progress on all ESG fronts.
Through our commitment to a cleaner energy future, we also have not lost sight of our responsibility to meet the energy needs of our customers no matter the weather or circumstances. A recent study by the American Gas Foundation emphasizes how the increasing frequency and intensity of events that stress our energy system underlines the need for us to consider what makes an energy system resilient and reliable and natural gas is a key part of that mix.
This winter presented a challenging mix of extreme weather and a pandemic, stressing our energy system. U.S. natural gas consumption set a two-day record from February 14 and 15 of this year. Natural gas utility companies were able to use their investments in infrastructure, operations, and planning to meet this record demand and provide safe and reliable energy with few interruptions.
Because of the critical role of natural gas in our energy mix and the utility employees who work 24/7/365 to keep systems functioning, communities can be confident that the energy needs of both homes and businesses will be met. We are always here, fueling our communities and delivering on our promise to customers.
Delivering affordable, reliable energy does not have to be at odds with clean energy goals. On Earth Day and every day of the year, progress on lowering emissions shouldn’t be uncoupled from affordable, reliable energy. Our industry is committed to the cleaner energy future we all are striving for and will continue to work every day to help ensure Americans have the energy they want and need while achieving our environmental goals.
• Karen Harbert is the President and CEO of the American Gas Association, representing companies that deliver natural gas safely, reliably, and in an environmentally responsible way to help improve the quality of life for their customers every day. AGA’s mission is to provide clear value to its membership and serve as the indispensable, leading voice and facilitator on its behalf in promoting the safe, reliable, and efficient delivery of natural gas to homes and businesses across the nation.
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