Proposal to cut demand for natural gas has utilities on edge

pennsylvaniaPower Source

By Daniel Moore

Electric utilities, through energy efficiency programs, have gradually reduced energy demand and consumption among customers. Now, state legislators have drawn criticism from the natural gas industry with a proposal that would hold natural gas utilities to the same standards.

The proposal was one of three bills introduced last week by Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, aimed at combating climate change and encouraging renewable energy development.

It would amend the state’s energy efficiency and conservation program to require natural gas distribution companies such as Peoples Natural Gas and Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania to cut gas consumption and demand 1 percent by 2018 and 3 percent by 2020. These are the same targets the legislature placed on electric distribution companies at the program’s outset in 2008.

“We’re attacking that because scientific reports continue to show we need to get to a point of carbon neutrality by mid- to late-century,” Mr. Vitali said. “If we go beyond that point, we cannot avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

But natural gas utilities are concerned such standards would disrupt the commodity’s role as a “bridge fuel” to help transition to the greater use of renewable energy sources. Plus, they would run counter the state’s booming Marcellus Shale drilling industry.

“I think that [the bill’s proponents are] totally unaware of its possible consequence and without any vision whatsoever of energy consumption today,“ said Barry Kukovich, spokesman for Peoples Natural Gas.

Mr. Kukovich believes the bill is based on the outdated conception that energy sources can be sorted into “neat little bins,” all of which are equally expensive and polluting.

He believes renewable energy will become more prominent, but not without natural gas as the fuel replaces dirtier-burning sources in power plants, vehicles and homes. Peoples is expanding service into communities that have asked for it, replacing hundreds of oil furnaces in the process, he said.

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