NW Natural has promoted Anna Chittum as director and hired Josh Lieberman as project developer for its newly created renewable resources group, which is tasked with securing renewable natural gas and renewable hydrogen to decarbonize the company's system and ensure a sufficient supply for customers.
Renewable natural gas (RNG) can be derived from dairy manure, landfill gas and wastewater treatment plants, among others sources. Renewable hydrogen can be derived from a process that captures surplus wind and solar energy and converts it to RNG or hydrogen through electrolysis. Both can be stored and then blended into utility pipeline systems.
"We know how important renewable gas resources are in closing the loop on waste and investing in homegrown solutions to address climate change," said Justin Palfreyman, NW Natural VP of strategy and business development, in a statement. "As a leader in this space, we are ready and resourced to pursue these opportunities even more aggressively."
An inventory of technical RNG potential released in 2018 by the Oregon Department of Energy estimated there are enough sources statewide to produce nearly 50 Bcf of renewable natural gas, equivalent to the total amount of natural gas used by all current Oregon residential customers.
NW Natural's recent push into renewable natural gas and hydrogen has been spurred by laws passed earlier this year in Oregon and Washington promoting the resources. In particular, Oregon's Senate Bill 98 supports adding as much as 30 percent renewable natural gas into the state’s pipeline system by 2050, and directs the Oregon PUC to adopt programs with caps on the total amount paid for RNG in order to protect both utilities and ratepayers from excessive costs as the market develops (CU No. 1913 ).
In Washington, House Bill 1257 set the groundwork for natural gas utilities to acquire renewable resources for their customers, and requires the utilities to develop voluntary tariffs allowing residential and business customers to buy RNG.
NW Natural said it plans to accept "homegrown" renewable natural gas onto its pipeline system through several projects in 2020. This includes working with the City of Portland to use some of the RNG generated at its Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant—fueling city vehicles with some, and injecting the rest into the utility's system (CU No. 1792 [8.2]). The facility to capture all the biogas and refine it into RNG is scheduled to come on line in early 2020, slightly delayed from earlier projections of late 2019.
Chittum has been with NW Natural for two years, leading development of RNG and renewable hydrogen opportunities for the company.
Before that, she consulted on best practices in business models and regulatory structures for district energy, microgrids, and combined heat and power systems, and worked to promote energy efficiency policies for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
She was a Fulbright Fellow in Denmark, where she researched local district heat planning and the use of CHP to balance variable wind generation. She holds a master's degree in urban planning from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in economics from Gonzaga University.
Lieberman joins NW Natural after previously working at RL Energy Resources, Clean Methane Systems, and Technology Transition Corporation, where he served as lead staff for the American Biogas Council.
He holds a master's degree from University of Adelaide and a bachelor's degree from the University of Oregon.