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Natural gas does not come in a one-size-fits-all package any more than electricity does. At Dominion Energy, we are committed to meeting both our customers’ need for flexible natural gas delivery and our communities’ demand for a cleaner environment. To these ends, Dominion Energy is developing an array of programs, partnerships and options that improve how natural gas is produced and delivered.
We operate one of the largest natural gas systems in the country, providing about 1 trillion cubic feet of storage capacity in five states (New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia). The system consists of more than 2,300 underground storage wells into which we inject natural gas so it is available when customers and communities need it. This dedicated energy supply proves invaluable in ensuring reliability. On days when demand is highest, up to half the gas delivered by our transmission network originates from our storage system.
We are working on new services to make this storage even more flexible so that our natural gas reserves, together with quick-start power generation, can act as a large-scale utility battery to provide reliable, on-demand power at any time. This will allow more renewables to be added to the grid.
Renewable Natural Gas
Waste, as R. Buckminster Fuller said, is simply a resource out of place. Dominion Energy is taking action: directing otherwise-wasted methane to a more productive part of the ecological cycle.
The agriculture industry is the largest source of methane released to the atmosphere in the United States, accounting for roughly 36 percent of all emissions. And raw methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. To reduce these methane emissions, our company has partnered with Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, to form the largest renewable natural gas partnership in history.
The partnership — known as Align RNG — will capture waste methane from hog farms and deliver this truly “natural gas” that can be introduced into the pipeline system to power homes and businesses. The energy is renewable because hogs create more waste every day. Moreover, it might be the cleanest energy source of all. The products of methane combustion are water and carbon dioxide. Because the RNG process captures more methane from hog farms than the carbon dioxide that is released by the end user, renewable natural gas is not only GHG-neutral, it is GHG-negative, by a factor of 25 to 1.
The partnership’s first four RNG projects in Virginia, North Carolina and Utah will produce enough energy to power 13,000 homes. According to the latest EPA calculations, the resulting GHG reduction will be equivalent to taking more than 100,000 non-electric vehicles (non-EV) cars off the road or planting over 7.8 million trees. Over the next decade, the partnership plans to expand RNG operations across 90 percent of Smithfield Foods’ hog farms in Utah and North Carolina, with some additional operations in Virginia. In addition to making agriculture more sustainable, the venture will provide extra income for family farms that participate.
In Utah, we began pursuing a renewable natural gas program for customers in the fall of 2018 that would allow customers to contribute, voluntarily, to a fund that would be used to buy RNG.
Even outside of these investments, we intend to grow the amount of RNG provided to customers over the coming years. We are working to attract RNG developers onto our system and make it easy for them to connect. The aim is to make RNG 4 percent of our distribution throughput by 2040 — a rate that will markedly reduce our customers’ greenhouse-gas footprint. At a 25:1 ratio, this greenhouse-gas reduction target will serve to make the customers of the Dominion Energy gas distribution network effectively greenhouse-gas neutral.
A driver who wants to fill the car’s gas tank takes it to a filling station. But suppose the filling station could come to the driver? That’s the idea behind NiCHe LNG, a partnership between Dominion Energy and REV LNG, Inc.
The modular LNG process cools natural gas until it reaches liquid state, at which point it is stored in an insulated tank. From the tank it is loaded onto trucks, which can deliver it anywhere pipelines are lacking or capacity is constrained. The LNG is allowed to warm back up as natural gas, ready for use by utilities, commercial and industrial users, transporters — even marine fleets.
Because modular LNG operations are flexible and scalable, they can be customized to meet the specific needs of different end users. LNG can serve as an as-needed fuel source for customers who may not want or need the long-term commitment of pipeline service. The service targets regions where customers are forced to use higher-polluting fuels to meet their needs. LNG is also a practical standby source of fuel for backup generation or during periods of high demand, when some customers would otherwise pay a high premium for delivered energy.