What happened: Utility announces plans to become first in North America to purchase renewable natural gas from wood waste
Why it matters: Initiative is part of an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
FortisBC is poised to be the first utility company in North America to offer renewable natural gas (RNG) made from wood waste.
RNG derived from sawdust, wood chips and bark will be sourced from a $130-million production facility owned and operated by REN Energy International Corporation.
The facility outside Fruitvale, B.C., is expected to be in service by summer 2021, producing 1 million gigajoules of RNG annually.
“This will be our largest single source of supply in B.C. to date. And this will be the first time that anyone’s commercially converted wood waste all the way to methane or renewable natural gas, which is interchangeable with our conventional natural gas,” FortisBC RNG supply manager Scott Gramm told Business in Vancouver following the project’s April 30 announcement.
The B.C. Utilities Commission gave the project the nod in March.
FortisBC has been purchasing RNG from conventional sources such as landfills, agricultural waste or municipal organics for about 10 years.
Gramm estimated that conventional organic waste would be able to account for about 5% of the utility’s gas supply.
But wood waste could potentially account for 50-60% of FortisBC's gas supply, he added.
“It’s probably one of the biggest bio-resources in the province,” Gramm said, referring to wood waste.
“If this works and works well, I do think … it’s going to be looked at very carefully across Canada and the U.S.”
The initiative comes amid FortisBC’s efforts to cut customers’ greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030.
REN Energy’s technology sees wood waste being fed into a gasifier that heats wood fibre to the point that it converts directly into gas.
The result is a mix of gases, which requires carbon dioxide to be separated out to leave only methane.
REN Energy president Philip Viggiani said in a statement he expects the launch of the facility in the Kootenay region to generate “hundreds of direct and indirect jobs.”
B.C. regulations permit FortisBC to purchase RNG for up to $30 per gigajoule, while the agreement between REN Energy and FortisBC is set to run 20 years.