Hydrogen Blending in Gas Pipelines Could Happen to California | Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

Hydrogen blending in gas pipelines could soon be coming to a college campus or town near you. Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and Southwest Gas Corporation (Southwest Gas) filed a Joint application with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) seeking to implement hydrogen blending demonstration projects. The $35 million projects will collect and analyze 18-month field test data using increased concentrations (from 5% to 20%) of hydrogen blended into steel and plastic natural gas distribution pipelines. plastic to help inform a future system-wide hydrogen injection standard. Proponents believe this is an important step toward decarbonizing the gas sector and ultimately achieving a clean gaseous fuel delivery system in California.

As described below, this is the Applicants’ second attempt to obtain approval for hydrogen blending demonstration projects. Their hope is that this time, by collaborating with the University of California at Irvine, the University of California at San Diego, and the city of Truckee (next to Lake Tahoe), their app will fare better.

A number of speakers, including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), disagreed with the scope, necessity and cost of the applicants’ proposal, so it remains to be seen how the CPUC will react.

The joint request is not without supporters: PG&E, Southern California Edison, the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, the Green Hydrogen Coalition and the California Hydrogen Business Council have filed supportive comments. Of particular interest is that PG&E’s comments revealed part of its own parallel hydrogen strategy.

This walkthrough has the potential to reveal the hydrogen strategy for all California utilities, and is worth watching for anyone interested in what the future of hydrogen in California might look like (let alone the future). potential effect on the use of hydrogen on a national scale). A pre-hearing conference has been proposed for November 2022 and the CPUC is expected to indicate its next steps before the end of the year.

The second application can be the charm

In November 2020, SoCalGas, SDG&E, Southwest Gas and PG&E filed a application seek approval for an accounting account to simply record the cost of implementing a hydrogen blending demonstration program. The CPUC finally fired this request as incomplete, premature and duplicative. The CPUC determined that the application did not provide sufficient detail to explain how it related to existing hydrogen studies, namely the Study of the impacts of hydrogen blending at the University of California, Riverside Study (UC Riverside Study) and California Energy Commission (CEC) research on the use and effects of hydrogen mixtures on end-use devices. The CPUC did, however, provide some guidance on what a future app should show:

  • Improved collaboration with stakeholders including UC Riverside, CEC and other parties;
  • how the results would apply to all of the applicants’ gas pipeline systems and a detailed timeline, a budget for approval by the Commission and details of each component of the proposed research program;
  • The extent of distribution or transmission pipeline research to test the effect of hydrogen embrittlement and the durability and integrity of pipeline materials and components, such as meters and station equipment compression;
  • How will interim reports be conducted for the benefit of stakeholders;
  • Sufficient information on the total costs of the claim and cost recovery, including whether claimants intend to recover capital costs from ratepayers; and
  • Reasonable attempts to use existing funds authorized by the CPUC and the federal government.

The petitioners expressly attempted to follow these indications in the joint petition.

The environmental community has concerns

The Sierra Club and EDF each filed protests expressing concerns about the safety, need and cost to ratepayers of the proposed hydrogen blending projects. The Sierra Club says the CPUC has never come to the conclusion that hydrogen blending in residential and commercial buildings is an appropriate or cost-effective strategy to meet California’s climate goals, particularly in relation to the emphasis put on general electrification strategies, and argues that these projects pose health, climate and safety risks. EDF argues that the scale and scope of demonstration projects will significantly limit the lessons that can be learned from them, and raise the real possibility that these projects will fail to address all of the key issues that should be addressed.

In response to these concerns, the applicants argue that the goal of the projects is to ultimately enable the use of hydrogen blending as a complementary tool to other decarbonization strategies, including electrification, to reduce carbon emissions. GHG emissions and to support the reliability and resilience of the energy sector. In addition, applicants reiterate that they are committed to developing and implementing a robust set of security-related actions during the planning and development phases of projects.

PG&E unveils its own hydrogen projects

In its response to the bid, PG&E offers strong support for hydrogen demonstration projects. Along with the plaintiffs’ plans, PG&E explains that it plans to focus its efforts on blending hydrogen into the gas transmission system by developing a stand-alone gas transmission facility that does not feed into the existing gas transmission system. (but no request from PG&E yet!). Initial hydrogen blend levels for the system are set at 5%, followed by a gradual increase from 5% up to 30% in the high pressure gas transmission system. PG&E intends to provide long-term operational data on the impacts of hydrogen blending on operations and maintenance, pipeline integrity, gas quality and metering, fluid hydraulics, and safety .

As usual, California is at the forefront of energy innovations with potential national implications, so stay tuned!

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