​Cow power coming to California

A biogas bus in Uppsala, Sweden. Image: JWN

First it was electric cars and renewable power generation. Then it was energy storage. Now California is looking to jumpstart a market for the methane produced by cows.

Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Southwest Gas jointly issued a draft solicitation this week for dairy biomethane pilot projects under California Senate Bill (SB) 1383.

Proposed projects must demonstrate an ability to capture and process biogas from dairy cows to produce renewable natural gas, which can replace traditionally sourced natural gas for generating electricity, heating homes and fuelling vehicles. At least five projects will be selected.

Livestock agriculture produces over one billion tonnes of manure annually in the U.S., which produces enormous volumes of potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) methane and nitrous oxide.

Methane on dairy farms accounts for the majority of agriculture’s GHG emissions, according to Sustainable Conservation, which estimates that if methane digesters were installed on most California dairies they would provide the equivalent GHG reduction as taking more than one million cars off the road—about five per cent of the state’s total.

The utilities’ draft solicitation is the first step in a new program created under SB 1383 by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which has been directed to reduce methane emissions from agriculture in the state by 2030.

Projects will be chosen based on an evaluation of the proposed business model, likely greenhouse gas reductions realized and cost effectiveness of achieving these reductions, environmental benefits, disadvantaged community benefits and project readiness.

"This is an exciting first step to building the market for renewable natural gas," said Lisa Alexander, vice-president of customer solutions and communications for SoCalGas. "Renewable natural gas, with its ability to turn methane emissions into a source of energy, is a critical element of a comprehensive approach to climate change, and we look forward to supporting these efforts."