Rallying for RNG

The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas’s Marcus Gillette discusses the organization, its goals and progress in expanding the production and use of RNG in North America.
By Anna Simet | April 25, 2018

Tell us about the inception of the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, its mission and vision.
The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (‘RNG Coalition’ for short) serves as the public policy advocate and education platform for the renewable natural Gas industry in North America.
In 2011, co-founders Johannes Escudero and David Cox were working in respective roles in and around the California state legislature. They came across a small clean energy industry with enormous potential that was being unintentionally impeded from growth in a market that was in need of more renewable fuel solutions.

In California, methane gas (biogas) captured at landfills was being used to generate electricity on-site, but not used as natural gas vehicle fuel, due to a 1988 state law that effectively squashed the fuel industry. The law essentially made it impossible to put California’s renewable natural gas into the interstate pipeline system, then draw it out of the pipe to power vehicles with ultra-clean renewable fuel. That needed to change. Together, with eight visionary companies that had the foresight to see that the U.S. lagged behind Europe in utilizing organic waste streams for its potential as renewable energy and fuel, Cox and Escudero launched the RNG Coalition. Within months, we successfully corrected the 1988 law.

The RNG Coalition’s mission ever since has been to advocate for increased development, deployment and utilization of renewable natural gas so that present and future generations will have access to this domestic, renewable, clean fuel and energy supply.

Your members are wide-ranging. Who are they?
Members of the RNG Coalition encompass over 125 companies and organizations from the full spectrum of the renewable natural gas value chain. They include major gas utilities, waste haulers, project developers and operators, technology and equipment providers, renewable fuel distributers and retailers, and everything in between. They even include large and medium-sized universities and cities with a progressive approach to sustainability.

Your major priority for 2017 stands in 2018. What is it?
We filter our many advocacy and educational opportunities through the lens of our primary goal: to what extent an action will help the North American RNG industry double the number of RNG production facilities from 51 in 2015, to over 100 in less than 10 years.

From the 1980s to 2014, fewer than 40 RNG production facilities arose in North America. We recently completed a new database and map of North American RNG production facilities, which revealed that less than four years later, we have just celebrated reaching 75 operational RNG facilities!
The project also positively revealed that we’re well on our way to exceeding that target. There are two dozen more projects currently being constructed, and another couple dozen more planned to be built in the next two years.

You have an action plan in place, striving to make the aforementioned priority happen. Can you discuss the major initiatives in this plan, and how these objectives will help achieve your goal for the industry?
First and foremost, we are dedicated to educating policymakers on how the RNG industry is a living, growing example of the benefit of clean fuels programs, since the intended design of these programs is to grow production and use of domestic renewable fuel. We collect relevant data and conduct research to enable the industry to communicate its economic benefits in terms of new clean energy jobs and investment into communities, and the associated environmental benefits our society has realized from RNG.

We promote best practices specific to the industry, such as gas quality standards for pipeline injection. In this area, this year we’ve launched RNG Academy. It’s a continuing education program for gas utilities and LDCs to promote best practices and help industry employees better understand production, injection, and distribution of renewably sourced gas.

We host important events, like the RNG Summit in Washington, D.C., for RNG company representatives to communicate to lawmakers the on-the-ground business realities and the benefits of what they do. The RNG Coalition puts on a growing end-of-year annual RNG conference for executive leaders to provide real-time updates on relevant policy and market developments, celebrate milestones and recalibrate for the work to be done in the coming year.

And this year we’ll host the first RNG Expo, to enable companies in our growing industry to showcase RNG-related technologies, capabilities, innovation and services.

Describe the industry right now—what’s production at now compared to five or 10 years ago, where is the fuel going, and how is it being used?
We’ve seen changes in the fuel’s use over time, to reflect that the highest and best use now for RNG is as renewable transportation fuel. Prior to 2014, a majority of RNG was being used to generate renewable electricity, registered under many states’ renewable portfolio standards. But the economics where changing. Electricity prices had dropped and were struggling to continue spurring new production.
Much of RNG production has shifted to conditioning and compressing or liquefying the gas to be used as a renewably sourced, drop-in natural gas transportation fuel. Now, 70 to 80 percent of RNG in North America is being used to power vehicles with natural gas engines, primarily heavy-duty vehicles like city fleets, port trucks and passenger buses in metro areas that most often previously ran on diesel.

A major driver of growth in the U.S. has been the Renewable Fuel Standard. Can you talk about that and its influence?
 As electricity prices lagged, the Renewable Fuels Standard, or RFS, is one driver that helped stimulate new projects to assist the U.S. in efficiently using waste streams for RNG production.

In 2014, thanks to the work of the RNG Coalition and industry to get recognition of RNG’s full environmental life-cycle benefits were officially recognized by the EPA. RNG used as a drop-in natural gas transportation fuel is an RFS-qualified advanced and cellulosic biofuel. The importance of the net carbon savings achieved by using RNG in transportation, reflected by the value of the cellulosic (D3) RIN, became a better driver for new facility development and growth in RNG production.

RNG production has made up over 95 percent of cellulosic fuel generation under the RFS in each year since. In 2014, about 50 million gallons (ethanol gallon equivalent or EGE) of RNG were produced under the RFS. In 2017, EPA shows over 242.5 million gallons (EGE) of RNG were RFS-qualified.
That’s an average annual growth rate of almost exactly 70 percent. What this means is, in the midst of a year when the merits of the RFS are being hotly debated in Washington, the RNG industry is perfect proof that the RFS is continuing to work as Congress intended, growing domestic production and use of cellulosic biofuels.

What about Canada? What’s the driving force there?
In addition to transportation fuel programs, we are working with regional gas utilities to help establish and further goals to decarbonizing the gas distributed through their pipeline networks by way of RNG procurement commitments. Fortis BC and Union Gas, as examples, have goals in place to have RNG make up specific percentages of the natural gas distributed through their pipeline networks by target years in the 2020s and ’30s. In response, we’re seeing several new RNG production facilities coming online in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

Are there any other important policy issues or pieces to watch, aside from the RFS?
California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard has played a similar role to that of the RFS, driving growth across the country and into Canada, of production of RNG to be used as renewable transportation fuel. Similar programs are being instated to encourage more production and use of RNG in respective regions. The California Air Resources Board is currently considering and taking public comment on potential amendments to the state’s LCFS, including an end goal to extend the program to 2030.

We’re participating in a stakeholder process in Oregon, originating out of 2017 SB 334, that has the goal to identify and overcome barriers in the state to RNG production and utilization. A similar bill also passed in Washington early this year, designed to spur more biogas and RNG production and use in the state.

Additionally, the RNG Coalition has two bills we’re sponsoring in California this year, one of which is similar to the RNG set by the Canadian utilities. Working in collaboration with California’s gas utilities, SB 1440, introduced by Sen. Ben Hueso, would establish a biomethane procurement program that requires gas corporations, Jan. 1, 2030, to procure their proportionate share of a total of 32 billion cubic feet of biomethane statewide. The second bill, AB 3187, introduced by Assemblymember Tim Grayson, would authorize gas corporations to include in their rate bases all reasonable costs incurred to interconnect biomass conversion facilities and anaerobic digestion facilities to their common carrier pipelines.

Author: Anna Simet
Editor, Biomass Magazine