In a previous blog post I introduced readers to the concept of Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) and the mindless anti-everything environmentalism of one of my favourite foils Mr. Ed Wiebe. As I discussed in that earlier post Mr. Wiebe posted the following in February:
Well he followed up that tweet this week with another tweet claiming to have “won” the complaint.
A I will discuss below, his victory was nothing of the sort and just another example of the shoot first, aim later approach the environmental activists of today seem to prefer.
The obvious first question to remind ourselves is: what is RNG? To answer that question I will use the text from my previous post. As Fortis BC (our provincial natural gas supplier) put it:
Renewable natural gas (RNG) is a 100 per cent carbon neutral energy source. When bacteria breaks down organic waste from sources – primarily farms, landfills and wastewater treatment facilities – biogas is created. The gas is captured, purified, and blended into natural gas distribution pipelines and delivered to homes, businesses, transportation fleets, and industry. Customers don’t need to upgrade furnaces, water heaters and other equipment to use RNG.
Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? Fortis (or any other supplier) traps gas produced by natural processes, that would otherwise be vented into the atmosphere, and makes use of those trapped emissions for energy. Making use of these emissions for energy both replaces the need to get that energy from another source and is a much better alternative to what has traditionally been done with those emissions: flaring biogas like torches in the night or simply letting it waft away like we see at virtually every sewage treatment plant in BC. Imagine harnessing that energy for good? Well that is what RNG is all about.
As anyone familiar with the topic of climate change knows, agricultural and municipal emissions of methane represent a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions (16% of global emissions according to the IPCC). Reducing agricultural and municipal emissions of methane represents a necessary step in achieving our global goal of capping greenhouse gas emissions.
From a climate perspective RNG is considered carbon-neutral. How is this you ask, since it burns a fuel and generates carbon dioxide? To answer that question you have to consider the gases involved. As the atmospheric chemists from the EPA explain:
Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, but methane is more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period
This means that if we can trap methane before it escapes to the atmosphere and convert it to carbon dioxide (while generating energy) we can actually reduce global climate forcings. This has the effect of reducing the net effect on the atmosphere and meets the definition of carbon neutrality.
As for RNG being sustainable? Well as long as people and animals continue to poo and plants die there will be biological materials that need to decompose. The natural decomposition of human, animal and vegetable wastes generates methane. This is a fact of nature and has been the case since long before humanity began messing with global atmospheric gas concentrations. Since the plan is that humans and animals will be on the planet for the foreseeable future, we have a sustainable source of the gas.
As for burning natural gas being evil; well irrespective of what some will say, natural gas is not readily-replaceable in our modern society. That is why when the City of Vancouver prepared its “Zero Emissions Building Plan” it left open the use of RNG within the City. The City recognized that it had to allow restaurants, which rely on natural gas for cooking, and existing buildings, that cannot be retro-fitted, to continue to use RNG in lieu of the traditional fossil fuel-derived natural gas. You might ask what’s so special about restaurants? Well there is a good reason why the old adage “they are cooking with gas” is used; because for some foodstuffs gas or wood stoves represent the only way to generate a desired culinary outcome and typically gas does a better job than wood at providing a consistent cooking temperature.
So now let’s look at Mr. Wiebe’s complaint. AS I discussed in my previous blog post, I asked Mr. Wiebe about why he complained but, as expected, he did not share the information with me, as I concluded in my post:
In retrospect it appears that he didn’t even know what RNG was when he made the complaint. All he saw was the words “natural gas” and “sustainable” and that was all he needed to make his complaint.
Now that the complaint is closed, the reason is now clear. Since such complaints are public, I sought the info and was provided the information in a telephone call. In the call my suspicions from my earlier blog posting were confirmed. As I suspected, prior to Mr. Wiebe making his complaint to Advertising Standards Canada he appears to have not done the slightest due diligence on the term “renewable renewable gas”. His complaint made it clear that he was not aware of the difference between RNG and normal (geologic) natural gas. So what was his victory?
Well apparently Fortis understands that the public will include environmentalists like Mr. Wiebe,who are unwilling to do any research before they complain. As a consequence Fortis has agreed that in future advertisements they will treat RNG as a “product” which would mean that any advertisement would include capital letters on the term. The original advertisement said “renewable natural gas” (the standard use in the literature) while any new ads will call it “Renewable Natural Gas”. I can understand Mr. Wiebe’s pride of achievement in this case, his victory consisted of adding capital letters to the advertisement. That would be the “changes they will have to make” he is crowing about in his tweet.Well arguably, they are changing three letters so that does represent “changes”.
Isn’t it sad that this is the level the environmental activists have sunk. They reflexively argue against anything they don’t understand and don’t bother to do the research to inform themselves before they complain. Mr. Wiebe saw a positive mention of natural gas and reflexively complained. I don’t want to guess what this little victory cost us, the taxpayers, but it could not have been cheap….all to add capital letters to an advertisement to help avoid complaints from the next low-information complainant.
The funniest part of the whole debacle is that Mr. Wiebe decided to brag about his victory. He clearly believed that no one would go through the effort of discovering what his complaint entailed and what his victory meant. So he felt no embarrassment about crowing over his victory on Twitter. Well now the truth is out, I would love to hear him brag about how he simply had no clue and shot first then aimed later.
I get that RNG is good. What i’m not getting, for Vancouver at least, is where all this RNG is supposed to come from in any measurable quantity (at least enough to justify Gregor’s proposed reg change) that doesn’t have adverse environmental effects. I mean, how many garbage dumps will need to be created?
There is not nearly enough capacity for us all that is for sure. Ideally under Vancouver’s plans the limited volume will be reserved for critical uses (cooking etc..) while other users will switch to electric. That being said, hooking in our sewage treatment and composting facilities would certainly help. Agricultural hook-ins would help as well.
And the cost of switching from gas to electric is just another detail, just like the cost of collecting, purifying, transporting and storing rng.
RNG has an environmental appeal. But one needs to recognize that it is actually expensive to collect, compress, and add to the existing gas supply. For example the methane off my septic tank is certainly burnable, but the equipment required so that I can use it to heat some domestic hot water is worth hundreds of dollars more than just buying electricity to do the same job. The amount that comes off of a municipal landfill is quite trivial compared to the natural gas supplied to a city, and the cost of the municipal project to build a gas plant on top of their landfill is quite high, but you know, it’s taxpayer dollars and hey, you feel good about the effort. But environmentalists often have forgotten that quite a portion of the COST of any given item has much to do with how much energy was expended in the manufacturing process to create it. It is interesting to me that the Fortis support advert for RNG actually represents support for taxpayer funding of Biogas projects, and then an environment activist criticises them !!…an ironic twist if ever there was one….