Removing fossil fuel challenges – MA studying how to remove natural gas in buildings

This is an interesting take on the problem of removing fossil fuels from everyday living, like natural gas in our furnaces, stoves and hot water heaters. If states and countries have a 0 carbon goal at some point in time, the logical inference is that behaviors and infrastructure need to change too – not just new but the retrofit of old. Grist put out an article on how the state of MA is trying to figure it out.

Part of the problem is that you cannot just rip out all the infrastructure and customer usage in a ‘big bang’ effort; the transition will be slow and methodical for everybody’s safety. The financial issues comes in when the customer base shrinks and can no longer support the costs of running the legacy systems … here’s the MA points on this, quote: “Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) officially opened a new proceeding to start guiding utilities into a decarbonized future while protecting their customers. As the number of people using the gas system shrinks over time, the cost of maintaining reliable service for remaining ratepayers could balloon. “It’s a really complicated set of issues as you look at what’s going to be happening on the gas side as people peel off,” said Susan Tierney, a senior advisor and energy expert at the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm. “There’s real trade-offs about affordability of supply, safety of service.””

The state is also taking a novel approach to the problem by requiring all stakeholders (utility companies) to pay for the same consultant work so all parties work off the same set of facts, data and recommendations – rather than the common practice of everybody hiring their own. Quote: “To aid in its inquiry, the DPU is requiring gas distribution companies in the state to jointly hire an independent consultant who will review two climate “roadmap” documents the state plans to release for various sectors later this year. The consultant will then analyze the feasibility of the proposed pathways in those roadmaps and offer additional ideas for how each company might comply with state law, using a uniform methodology. Ultimately the consultant must produce a single, comprehensive report of their findings for all companies. By March 2022, the companies are required to submit new proposals with “plans for helping the Commonwealth achieve its 2050 climate goals, supported by the Report,” for the DPU to review.”

While this is a long process and a tough problem, MA deserves credit for trying to figure it out and not sit on their hands waiting for Deus ex machina. Quote, ““This investigation is nation-leading and will allow Massachusetts to plan ahead and make the policy and structural changes in the natural gas industry we need to ensure a clean energy future that is safe, reliable, and fair for all of our customers,” she said.”

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