Assembly Bill 1900, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), a bill which removes barriers to the development of renewable natural gas (RNG) as a fuel in California, passed the Senate Utilities Committee after a nearly three hour hearing by a vote of 11-0. In conjunction with AB 2196 (joint authored by Assemblymen Gatto and Wesley Chesbro), AB 1900 will change the counterproductive current regime that forces California companies to waste their natural resources and California utilities to buy RNG out of state. This bill will also honor existing biomethane contracts signed by municipal utilities throughout the state.
Representatives from Glendale, Pasadena and Los Angeles traveled to Sacramento to support the bill. Senators heard from tens of stakeholders concerned that utility rates in Burbank and Pasadena would skyrocket unless Gatto’s bill passed.
RNG is natural gas produced by decomposing matter. It is a by-product of many regular activities. Landfills, water-treatment plants, and livestock farms all produce biogas. It can be burned instead of natural gas in electricity-producing facilities, natural-gas-powered vehicles and home appliances, and it is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
The packed room was treated to some humor when Gatto explained, “California has a lot of landfills in urban centers that can produce energy, and also a lot of ‘happy cows’ in rural centers that can do the same.”
Under current law, RNG producers in California are banned from selling their fuel. The law prohibits landfill gas from being injected into the pipelines that carry natural gas across the state, and imposes such strict testing requirements on other forms of RNG that it effectively prohibits them as well. Thus, California’s RNG producers are forced to either burn it, or let it escape into the atmosphere, both of which pollute the air.
“Go outside and light a fire so that the smoke blocks your solar panels,” said Gatto. “That’s the effect of our policies in the biogas arena. We not only force producers to waste their natural energy source, but we force them to pollute as well.”
Because of California’s ban, many utilities purchase RNG from non-California sources. This means the jobs from this burgeoning industry are created outside the state. ABs 1900 and 2196 would protect current contracts with RNG producers around the country, prevent utilities from having to raise rates by expressly allowing them to make good on their existing contracts, but would set up a new system within California to foster local industry and local jobs. Additionally, the bill allows California producers of RNG, whether big landfills or small farmers, to sell it to utilities in the state, as long as it is demonstrably clean, pure, and safe.
“We can produce renewable power in our state, from sources that occur naturally,” said Gatto. “We can put Californians to work, clean our air, keep utility bills low, and we can stop the insanity of requiring existing producers of biogas to burn it while they use fossil fuels for electricity. Or we can maintain the status quo, wasting a naturally occurring product, causing greater pollution, and ignoring a tool for diversifying our state’s domestic-energy portfolio. It’s about time we choose the former.”