British Columbia (B.C.) shares many traits with the U.S. Pacific Northwest, including strong citizen expectations for action on climate change. In 2018, the provincial government announced its CleanBC plan to reduce emissions, taking a clear stance on climate action. Since many municipal governments have set ambitious climate plans, and various organizations are working to find how they fit in a lower-carbon future.
FortisBC is partnering with local governments to make mutual climate action goals a reality. FortisBC serves approximately 1.2 million customers with natural gas, electricity, propane and alternative energy solutions. It owns and operates approximately 56,000 kilometers of natural gas and electricity distribution infrastructure.
In 2019, FortisBC announced what remains among the most ambitious emissions reductions targets in the Canadian utility sector today: its 30BY30 target, a goal to reduce its customers’ greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. A key part of FortisBC’s 30BY30 target is increasing the supply of carbon-neutral renewable gas in its system. By 2030, FortisBC aims to have at least 15% of its natural gas supply be carbon neutral. To meet this target, FortisBC has redoubled its focus on expanding its 10-year-old renewable natural gas (RNG) program.
RNG is a carbon-neutral gas made from capturing methane released from decomposing organic waste. FortisBC traditionally captures the methane from landfills and farms, purifies it, and blends the energy with conventional natural gas in its existing infrastructure.
FortisBC was the first utility in North America to offer RNG to its customers, which today numbers over 10,000 residential and commercial customers. The demand in the province is great, with demand outpacing supply, so FortisBC is working to increase the amount of RNG available.
Successful climate action requires continued innovation and technological advancement, and for FortisBC to reach its 30BY30 target, it needed to do something new to accelerate its RNG supply.
FortisBC will be looking to use wood waste to increase its RNG supply. British Columbia’s forestry sector contributes an estimated $14 billion to the local economy annually, while supporting more than 7,000 businesses and employing more than 50,000 people. Forestry operations produce a significant amount of wood waste that, when decomposing, can release methane directly into the atmosphere.
To tap into this vast potential, FortisBC signed an agreement in spring 2020 to receive RNG from wood waste in the first commercial wood waste-to-RNG project in North America. REN Energy International Corporation is building a first-of-its-kind, commercial-scale facility that will convert forestry waste into about one petajoule of RNG each year for the next 20 years, the largest single source of RNG supply in B.C. to date. This would be enough energy to meet the annual needs of approximately 11,000 B.C. homes.
In early 2021, FortisBC is set to receive RNG from another unique source: the sewage system. The Lulu Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, located in Richmond, B.C., will provide FortisBC approximately 60,000 gigajoules of RNG annually. This is expected to increase to about 80,000 gigajoules of RNG a year by the end of the 20-year contract. Those 80,000 gigajoules would be enough energy to meet the needs of around 880 B.C. homes.
FortisBC also is looking beyond provincial borders for additional RNG opportunities. FortisBC has identified up to 15 petajoules of potential RNG supply in North America. In summer 2020, it became the first Canadian utility to purchase RNG from outside its provincial borders. With interprovincial supply agreements from producers in Alberta and Ontario, FortisBC plans to continue pursuing agreements outside the province while advancing opportunities in B.C.
As of December 2020, FortisBC has been delivering around one-third of a petajoule of RNG annually from six operations. However, the organization made incredible strides in securing new future supply in 2020. The utility now has 14 agreements approved with facilities under construction or submitted for approval with the British Columbia Utilities Commission. Once all supply sites are fully operational, FortisBC is projecting that almost 5% of its natural gas supply, or roughly 9 petajoules, will come from these renewable sources by 2022. These agreements would represent one-third of the organization’s goals outlined in its 30BY30 target, all secured within the first year of announcing the goal.
Climate action will require partnership, collaboration, and innovation. FortisBC continues to partner with municipalities and industry to gain access to viable sources of RNG-quality methane. These partnerships create jobs, provide new revenue streams for producers and help municipalities put their decomposing waste facilities to use. It’s a vital part of how natural gas utilities can reinvent themselves and become part of a lower-carbon future without abandoning what they do best: providing safe and reliable energy affordably to their customers.
For more information on FortisBC and its RNG program, visit fortisbc.com/RNG.