CenterPoint wants to offer 'renewable' gas to Minnesota customers, but what is it?

The utility argues it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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CenterPoint Energy revealed on Friday that it wants to start offering a new option to its Minnesota customers beginning next year: Renewable gas.

If approved, it would become one of the first companies in the country to sell renewable natural gas, with customers in Minnesota given an option of how much of their gas supply they want to be renewable.

So what is it? Well first off, renewable doesn't mean "emission-free." It would actually see CenterPoint capturing methane and introducing it to its gas supply.

Methane is 30 times more polluting as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, with CenterPoint saying it will obtain the gas from decomposed landfill trash, livestock manure and decomposing crops, which MPR reports they can then process and refine into a form "identical to traditional natural gas."

That said, CenterPoint says that using this renewable gas would be more eco-friendly than just using natural gas.

That's because the methane created by the aforementioned manure/landfill would either be released directly into the atmosphere or burned off to make carbon dioxide, and CenterPoint says using it in the gas supply could reduce greenhouse gases by around 40 percent.

"In many cases, the methane emitted from these waste sources is not put to any useful purpose," CenterPoint said on Friday.

"The methane is either released directly into the atmosphere or burned in flares and converted to CO2 —in either case increasing greenhouse gas pollutants in the atmosphere.

"When it is collected, processed and used as a fuel, it can reduce waste and meet customers' energy needs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Nick Mark, manager of Conservation and Renewable Energy Policy for CenterPoint Energy.

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How much would it cost?

That's a possible sticking point. Renewable natural gas would cost $3.89 per therm compared to 62 cents currently charged for natural gas.

That means it will be too expensive for many to replace their gas supply completely with renewable gas.

That's why CenterPoint says it will give its customers the option of how much extra they want to spend on renewable gas. Commercial customers meanwhile would be able to sign up for as little as $1 per month.

The Star Tribune reports that a survey by CenterPoint found half of customers were willing to pay $5-$25 more per month for renewable gas.

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