Jason Thackston: Natural gas is still an important part of our region’s energy portfolio
Avista has been a Spokane-based utility for over 130 years, dealing with more than just electricity and natural gas. Established on the banks of the Spokane River, we value the natural resources that enable us to serve our customers and that enrich our lives. We also care about the health and vitality of our communities and everyone who lives here.
We appreciate and respect the interest, commitment and consideration of citizens who have invested their time and energy in developing the City Council-sponsored draft Sustainability Action Plan. Following the recently released opinion piece on the plan, we’d like to provide some additional information and context on how we can all achieve a low carbon future.
Avista has dealt with the Council’s Sustainability Action Subcommittee, which has drawn up the plan from the start. He has an advisory and informative role in developing a plan that is consistent with and based on existing clean energy goals and that recognizes and represents the needs and interests of the entire community. We have made constructive contributions to clarify the role and importance of natural gas in achieving the clean energy goals and in providing affordable and reliable energy to Spokane residents.
Customers in the northwest of the country benefit from affordable energy. For Avista’s customers, electricity comes from a generation portfolio that is almost 60% renewable. And when the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing, or the river flows are low, we rely on natural gas to generate electricity and make sure the lights stay on. This diverse generation mix is part of what contributes to affordable electricity prices and is critical to reliability.
Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fuels. It plays a key role in reducing CO2 emissions, especially when used directly in households for cooking and heating rather than generating electricity to meet the same needs. We have been working with our customers for decades to use natural gas efficiently. A direct ban on natural gas in new buildings is not a more efficient or cost-effective solution, especially with the cold temperatures in winter. A recent study by the University of California at Davis confirms that electrifying natural gas heating in Washington can actually increase CO2 emissions. If natural gas heating devices are replaced by electrical devices such as heat pumps, the efficiency of the electrical devices is reduced at colder temperatures. To meet this demand without natural gas, the electricity would likely have to be purchased at a higher cost. The study shows that electrification with a standard heat pump is less efficient and increases carbon by over 30%.
As we saw recently, the natural gas distribution system helps maintain reliability during power outages – a natural gas fireplace provides heat when the power goes out, which can be critical for prolonged cold weather outages. If natural gas is not available to customers during persistent blackouts, they may be able to burn wood, run gasoline generators, or use propane.
Aside from environmental and reliability issues, there are significant cost implications if the direct use of natural gas, which affects business and private customers, is avoided. It costs even more to replace natural gas heating systems and appliances with electric ones in existing homes and businesses.
For Avista customers, electricity and natural gas work complementarily, providing the right fuel for the right purpose, as well as a system that optimizes overall energy reliability and stability. We recognize that there is value in reducing carbon emissions and we believe that a measured approach that weighs the broad impacts for a wide range of stakeholders is the way to go.
Just last month we announced our goals to reduce natural gas emissions by 30% by 2030 and to be climate neutral in our natural gas business by 2045. In 2019 we defined goals for clean electricity in order to supply customers with clean electricity by 2045 and 10045 to have a climate-neutral electricity supply by the end of 2027. We are determined to continue working together to achieve these goals, and we support efforts to reduce emissions, promote clean energy, and promote more sustainable communities in ways that balance responsibility, affordability, and reliability.
Jason Thackston is Avista’s Senior Vice President, Energy Resources.