OPINION: The rest of the story on fossil fuels in Oregon

By Lou Christian of UA Local 290

A recent op-ed titled “Fossil fuels are not going anywhere” was full of thoughtful insights and hard truths on Oregon’s need to continue the use of natural gas and other fuels, but it wasn’t the full story.

In Oregon, our local utilities and workers are at the forefront of decarbonizing our energy systems. It was rightly noted that “electrification” is not the same as decarbonization because during peak demands for energy, natural gas is still the cleanest and most reliable source available.

There is a better way to decarbonize than bluntly mandating electrification. Instead, states should invest more in clean fuels such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen.

Our existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure can transition from carrying traditional natural gas to some renewable, carbon-free alternatives. It’s time we come together with a strong partnership, focused on the next wave of clean energy technology.

I am proud of our UA Local 290 members and subcontractors who work with NW Natural, one of the nation’s leading gas utilities in environmental stewardship.

NW Natural has been working to decarbonize their pipeline by 2050. The potential for renewable natural gas and hydrogen will not only decarbonize the NW Natural pipeline, but also has storage potential to decarbonize the entire energy system.

One of these promising technologies is renewable hydrogen, which is created by combining excess wind and solar power with water. This process, called electrolysis, separates the hydrogen from the oxygen then delivers some renewable hydrogen into natural gas pipelines and releases the oxygen into the air.

Renewable hydrogen acts like battery storage capturing the excess renewable energy so we can use it when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. Because some of it is delivered through pipelines, it also provides energy when weather brings down the electric grid.

If this sounds new, it’s only because the U.S. is behind the rest of the world in embracing renewable hydrogen. Thankfully, the U.S. Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a bipartisan effort to pump $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending into the economy. The bill authorizes $8 billion in new funding to accelerate the deployment of clean hydrogen fuels.

The Biden administration and a bipartisan coalition in Congress prioritized this new technology because large-scale renewable hydrogen projects are being announced everywhere but the United States. Workers, consumers and employers all win.

That’s the kind of policy Oregon should be able to get behind.

Our region has the know-how, climate commitment and workforce to be a global leader in this emerging technology, and we have some early successes. NW Natural announced a partnership with Eugene Water & Electric Board and Bonneville Environmental Foundation to explore the development of what would be one of the largest renewable hydrogen production facilities in North America.

To make systemwide progress, we need a long-term vision that sees pipeline infrastructure as a valuable asset in our conversion to low or no-carbon fuel sources.

Not using our pipeline infrastructure is short-sighted and flies in the face of global energy trends. New technologies are going to advance, with or without us.

Let’s capture the moment and have Oregon be a part of this clean energy future.

This article was originally published in the Portland Tribune