CenterPoint Energy proposes tapping Minnesota-made RNG

By CenterPoint Energy | April 27, 2020

To promote the production of made-in-Minnesota renewable natural gas (RNG) and supply the increasing demand for this clean energy resource, CenterPoint Energy is seeking to open its Minnesota pipeline system to natural gas created from organic materials such as agricultural manure, landfill waste, wastewater and commercial food waste.

CenterPoint Energy has submitted an "interconnection" proposal to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that would allow the utility to accept Minnesota-produced RNG into its distribution system. RNG suppliers will pay for the interconnection service, with no cost to the utility's customers.

Initially, the RNG is expected to pass through to interstate pipelines for use in other states, but CenterPoint Energy ultimately hopes to make RNG available to its customers in Minnesota. CenterPoint Energy is the state's largest natural gas utility, serving more than 860,000 customers in 260 communities.

"CenterPoint Energy is committed to pursuing clean energy innovations like RNG," said Brad Tutunjian, CenterPoint Energy Vice President-Minnesota Region. "RNG has significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while using our existing natural gas distribution system. By adding RNG to our system, we can diversify our gas supply away from fossil fuels while also benefiting local economies, especially in rural areas."

When biogas generated from organic waste is refined into RNG, it is interchangeable with conventional natural gas. Known as "green gas," RNG can provide a double environmental benefit because it offers a productive use for waste methane gas that might otherwise be released directly into the atmosphere and it replaces conventional fossil-fuel natural gas with a renewable resource.

CenterPoint Energy is already in discussions with RNG producers and project developers interested in the opportunity to access the utility's Minnesota pipeline system.

"Amp America supports CenterPoint Energy's proposed tariff that will allow interconnections for RNG projects into CenterPoint Energy's pipeline network," said Grant Zimmerman, CEO of Amp Americas, LLC. "RNG is the lowest carbon transportation fuel available and important to reducing emissions of our transportation fleet. The biggest barrier to America tapping the full potential of its RNG resources is the pipeline interconnection.  As one of the only developers of RNG from dairy waste, Amp knows this firsthand.  This initiative by CenterPoint Energy is an important step in making the interconnection faster and cheaper to bring more low-carbon fuel to market, develop Minnesota's RNG industry and create high-paying jobs in rural communities.  We look forward to working with CenterPoint Energy on future Minnesota RNG projects."

Hennepin County Commissioner Debbie Goettel, chair of the Partnership on Waste and Energy, which includes Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties said, "Recycling organic waste material into a biofuel like RNG is an exciting economic and waste management opportunity for Minnesota communities. To make the most of this opportunity, access to the existing natural gas distribution system is essential to ensure that Minnesota-made RNG can reach end-use customers and supply the growing market demand for this new clean energy resource."

In 2018, CenterPoint Energy filed a proposal with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for a pilot program that would have offered an RNG option to its Minnesota customers. The Commission declined to approve the specific proposal, but acknowledged the potential benefits of RNG and expressed support for encouraging Minnesota-produced RNG. As recommended by the Commission, CenterPoint Energy has continued to work with stakeholders to explore RNG opportunities in Minnesota.

If approved by the Commission, the new interconnection proposal could promote Minnesota RNG production by making it easier for producers to sell their product to existing markets. For example, federal energy policy and policies in states like California provide incentives for using RNG in natural gas-powered vehicles, making transportation the current primary market for RNG. Some natural gas utilities have also begun to offer RNG to their customers, representing a large potential market.

As part of the interconnection process, CenterPoint Energy would require RNG producers to meet gas quality standards, including ongoing testing, to ensure that RNG entering the utility's system is interchangeable with conventional natural gas.

In a related development, CenterPoint Energy also recently proposed the Natural Gas Innovation Act at the Minnesota Legislature. It would allow a natural gas utility to submit an alternative resource plan to the Public Utilities Commission to offer its customers alternative fuels, such as RNG, as well as new energy-efficiency and carbon-capture technologies to reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use.