US Gain experiencing only minor impact from COVID-19

By Erin Voegele | April 08, 2020

Mike Koel, president of U.S. Gain, has confirmed the COVID-19 pandemic has caused only minor impacts to the company’s renewable natural gas (RNG) business and project development activities. He is, however, advocating for financial assistance for the agriculture industry that not only produces vital food products, but also feedstock for RNG production.  

When asked how COVID-19 was impacting demand for RNG, Koel said he expects that answer will be different for each RNG supplier. “Our CNG demand is down about 7 percent,” he said. The majority of the company’s customers operate Class 8 heavy-duty trucks, which are often used to transport food and other consumer goods.

Koel said RNG demand has actually increased from vendors that are transporting food products. Demand from bus companies, however is down, as many school buses, municipal buses and airport shuttles are not currently operating.

U.S. Gain currently has several RNG projects under development. Koel said there have been some disruptions caused by COVID-19, but so far those disruptions have been minor. From an operations perspective, of the projects producing RNG, one change has been to drivers trucking gas to a pipeline interconnect. The drivers now need to follow a new set of procedures to maintain social distancing. Koel also discussed an issue at a RNG site being built by a third-party developer where no travel policies made it difficult to get necessary contractors on site despite the fact that RNG production is considered an essential business. The project developer was able to find a solution by providing RVs to house the contractors. Once operational, U.S. Gain will buy the RNG produced at that project site.

Koel stressed that U.S. Gain is following Center for Disease Control guidelines to help protect its staff and other members of the public from COVID-19. This includes using tools such as Zoom and Skype to replace in-person meetings. In the field, the company has used FaceTime to help minimize the number of people that are at a site. Those working on-site are also practicing social distancing by staying at least six feet apart. U.S. Gain is also talking to contractors about taking the same types of precautions. “This is an essential business for transportation, but we need everyone to be safe,” Koel said.

If employees are sick or exposed to COVID-19 and need to quarantine for 14 days, Koel said U.S. Gain is taking steps to ensure they are paid for that time.

Congress is expected to take up a fourth COVID-19 stimulus package later this month. While Koel said he doesn’t think RNG project developers currently require any dedicated relief measures, he said he thinks it’s important that bill contains help for the agriculture community. U.S. Gain produces RNG from cattle manure. “Farmers here in Wisconsin are dumping milk, and we’ve had a farmer tell us he’s going to have to sell cows,” Koel said. “When our business is premised on the amount of manure we can generate, that’s not good. We want to see cows bought, not sold…The dairy industry is really hurting.”