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The Role Of Fossil Gas Utilities In The Era Of Clean Energy Gets Tested In New York

By District Energy posted 01-23-2024 05:59


Clean Technica


Everybody wants to do something about carbon emissions but few know how. We want to do better, but it is easier to just keep on doing what we have always done than to put the time, effort, and money needed into making changes. Utility companies that supply fossil gas — incorrectly known as “natural gas” — are under pressure from environmental groups because their product — which is mostly methane — releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when it is burned.

New York State thinks it has a solution to the dilemma. Take all the experience fossil gas utilities have in pipeline construction and building distribution networks and apply it to delivering heat for ground source heat pumps instead. In 2022, the New York legislature passed a law that promotes a number of policies designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Among them is a plan to cut carbon and methane emissions from the fossil gas utilities while still carving out a role for those utilities in the decades to come.

They would continue digging trenches, laying pipelines and installing equipment — the same kind of capital investments that earn gas utilities long and stable rates of return today. But instead of flammable and planet-warming gas, those pipes will carry water or other liquids that transfer heat from underground — or from other buildings and sources in the network — that can be used by heat pumps to keep buildings warm.

Con Edison, the utility serving New York City and Westchester County, has proposed three projects taking on some of the most challenging urban settings, including the landmark Rockefeller Center. Con Ed plans to convert three large commercial buildings from the utility’s district steam heating network to heat pumps. These heat pumps would draw on water that’s warmed up by waste heat from sources including the sewers, data centers and cooling systems of adjoining buildings.

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